A Braille phone design comes into focus

Ramya Kannan
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Video perception, voice calls, GPS — the visually-impaired can access all this and more soon.

For persons with disabilities, access has galloped in on the shoulders of technology. And for persons with visual impairment, or no vision, technology has been the game changer.

In the not-so distant future, all those promising a Braille phone might actually deliver. And this includes two major mobile phone corporations, one of them Indian, and young Indian designer Sumit Dagar. As he said in his TED presentation, his smart Braille phone will be the ultimate device for persons with vision impairment.

In its final form, a person with no vision can do most of the stuff that anyone else does with theirs now: including perceiving videos through Braille inputs on the touch surface of the phone. Later this year, the alpha version of the phone, with facilities for voice calls, simple text message and simple GPS will be tested among users, Mr.Dagar says. But that is in the future. Already, technology, to use a cliché, has made life easy for those with vision impairments or blindness. M.Shivakumar is a Ph. D. student. Until about five years ago, he had to have a reading assistant to help him with university work. Today, he is his own man, with his laptop, and a speech software called JAWS.

“I do my own reading, researching, browsing the web; I even do my own DTP these days. The kind of independence that JAWS has given me is to be experienced to be believed,” Mr. Shivakumar says.

A long time user of JAWS, he says subsequent versions provided vast improvements over the earlier ones. “Today, the version we use allows us to do all the things that a sighted person is able to do with the computer. Changes have been cognisant of the needs of the blind people. A screen-reading software is able to remove the difference between seeing and not seeing,” Mr.Shivakumar explains.

Phones that talk have also been serving as aids for people who cannot see. Again, the task the software does is one of screen-reading, and intelligible one at that. This app, including the popular Talks model (by Nuance), is configured to read everything that is displayed on the screen, including navigation via maps, web content, and even third party applications.

Zooms (also by Nuance) is one of the apps that provides a screen magnifier in order to enable those with low vision to access phone content.

C. Govindakrishnan, founder, Nethrodaya, says he and his colleagues have also immensely benefited from the modern day Magnifier.

It is a device fitted with a camera that scans text, converts it to an image, and magnifies it manifold (to be projected on a TV or computer screen) to benefit people with low vision.

Sophistication in the technology used has actually driven this innovation in magnification ahead, and it now actually provides the option of user-specific settings, he adds.

Not the least of the lot, the compact, cheap Braille printer is a big boon for students. “Nothing can rival the pleasure of making your own Braille printout without actually poking the paper to emboss it,” Mr. Govindakrishnan adds.




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