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Braille Texting App for Visually Impaired in Prototype

BrailleTouch (Georgia Tech)

BrailleTouch (Georgia Tech)

Georgia Institute of Technology researchers have built a prototype application for touch-screen mobile devices that aims to be a way of texting without the need to look at a handheld device’s screen. The team led by postdoctoral researcher Mario Romero in Georgia Tech’s interactive computing school will demonstrate the app this weekend at the Abilities Expo in Atlanta.

The app, called BrailleTouch, adapts the Braille writing system for the visually impaired, and will be made available free and open-source. Early research indicates that visually impaired study participants proficient in Braille typing can input at least six times the number of words per minute when compared to other research prototypes for eyes-free texting on a touch screen.

“Research has shown that chorded, or gesture-based, texting is a viable solution for eyes-free written communication in the future,” says Romero, “making obsolete the need for users to look at their devices while inputting text on them.” Users reach up to 32 words per minute with 92 percent accuracy with the prototype BrailleTouch app for the iPhone.

The app turns the iPhone’s or iPad’s touchscreen into a soft-touch keyboard programmed for Braille and requiring only six keys, which makes it practical for the smaller screen sizes on smartphones. (An Android version of the app is in development.) BrailleTouch employs a six-key configuration that fits completely on the screen and allows users to keep their fingers in a relatively fixed position while texting.

With this design, users hold their device with the screen facing away from them — cradling the device with their palms, thumbs, or little fingers. Users can then type with a majority of their fingers, identical to typing Braille on a standard keyboard.

Georgia Tech graduate student Caleb Southern, who is working with Romero on the project, says the team is planning to evaluate the app with both qualitative and quantitative criteria. “We will measure the typing speed and accuracy of visually impaired users,” says Southern, “and capture the feedback from study participants in areas such as comfort, ease of use and perceived value.”

The app can also be used for eyes-free texting by fully sighted users that replaces soft QWERTY keyboards and other texting technologies, such as for taking notes while visually observing other activities.  Romeo cautions the app should definitely not be used for texting while driving, which requires much more in the way of cognitive skills. “That would be like inventing a pill for drinking and driving,” says Romero, “not a good idea.”

Romeo demonstrates BrailleTouch in the following video.


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