A Tablet for the Blind?

An undergraduate in a Stanford course helped develop a Braille writer for a touchscreen. What does tablet computing offer the visually impaired?

David Zax

An innovative app developed at Stanford University over the summer shows how tablet computing has the potential to transform the ways the blind interact with the world. During a two-month summer course, an undergraduate and two mentors developed a Braille writer for a touchscreen.

Braille, the alphabet for the blind built out of patterns of bumps, is the way the blind navigate the world of text. But how do blind people write Braille themselves? There exist specialized mechanical devices for the purpose, that look something like little typewriters, only with just a handful of keys. (There’s a wealth of information on the panoply of Braille writers here.) Such devices are pricey, though–$3,000 to $6,000, often. A tablet, obviously, is an order of magnitude less expensive, and has greater capabilities.

While at Stanford’s Army High-Performance Computing Research Center (AHPCRC) this past summer, Adam Duran, a rising senior from New Mexico State University, together with two mentors, Adrian Lew and Sohan Dharmaraja, developed the idea of technology to assist the blind. First they thought they’d work on a Braille reader. But then they realized they should aim higher. "The killer app was not a reader, but a writer," Dharmaraja told Stanford Report.

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