FOR quite some time now, visually impaired smartphone users have several tools at their disposal that makes it easier to type and send messages.
With the proliferation of touchscreen smartphones in an increasingly visual world, various technologies such as Apple's VoiceOver and Android's built-in speech output function have been feted as a step forward in improving accessibility for the blind or people with low vision.
However, functional experts and users lament the inefficiency of for example in Apple's case having to wait for VoiceOver to speak out each letter or number pressed before the character is added.
Now researchers from the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States are developing new technology for those who can read or write in Braille to type and send a text without looking at the screen.
Called BrailleTouch, the research group has developed a prototype app for the iPhone and iPad, which basically has six keys on the sides of the screen in landscape mode that a user controls with six fingers (three for each hand). The ability to read and write Braille, which uses a grid of six raised dots, would be needed to form letters by touching the keys and receive audio feedback to confirm which letter has been typed similar to how VoiceOver works.
But the developers are saying that typing using BrailleTouch can be up to six times faster compared to other research prototypes for eyes-free texting on a touch screen, with users reaching "up to 32 words per minute with 92 per cent accuracy with the prototype app for the iPhone".
"The key feature of the BrailleTouch technology is the use of the six-key configuration so that the keyboard fits on the screen and users keep their fingers in a relatively fixed position while texting. This design allows users to hold their device with the screen facing away from them cradling the device with their palms or pinkies and thumbs and to type with a majority of their fingers, identical to typing Braille on a standard keyboard," stated a press release from Georgia Tech.
The six keys make it an ideal solution for the limited screen estate on smartphones, some of which do not have tactile feedback. Interestingly, the developers are not only targeting the visually impaired but also sighted users, where they are exploring how the app can be a universal eyes-free mobile texting app that replaces the standard soft QWERTY keyboard.
As an out-of-the-box solution, the app will allow users to start learning the Braille alphabet in a short amount of time without the need for expensive Braille keyboards. The researchers are expecting to roll-out the open-source app in the next couple of weeks, with plans in the pipeline to make it available for all smartphone platforms.
If proven successful, the app might just as well give the impetus for sighted people to learn Braille, just so one can text under the table without having to look at the screen during meetings or formal dinners to avoid public scorn.
The views expressed by the author are his own and do not reflect the views of The Brunei Times.
The Brunei Times
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
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