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October 13, 2011

US researchers tweak tablets to help the blind communicate

'We built buttons that find the fingers', claims a researcher working on the project  

By CBR Staff Writer

A team of US researchers has developed a new way for the blind to communicate using tablet devices.

The researchers have used a new design for the touchscreen keyboard in the tablet devices to overcome the lack of tactile features.

The researchers hope that people with impaired vision can use the touchscreen of a tablet as a Braille keyboard with the technology they have developed, the BBC reported.

People with low vision need to place eight fingers on the touch screen to activate the keyboard. The menu is displayed when the user shakes the device and further interaction is achieved by regular touch gestures, said the report.

"Instead of having fingers that find the buttons, we built buttons that find the fingers," one of the researchers on the project Stanford’s Sohan Dharmaraja told the BBC.

Others in the team are Adam Duran – an undergraduate from New Mexico University – and assistant professor Adrian Lew.

The new technology could be used by the blind in many ways.

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"Imagine being blind in the classroom, how would you take notes? What if you were on the street and needed to copy down a phone number? These are real challenges the blind grapple with every day," said Lew.
Moreover, traditional Braille writers are bulky and expensive.

"Current physical note takers are big and clunky and range from $3,000 (£2,000) to $6,000 (£4,000). Tablet PCs are available at a fraction of the cost and do so much more," said Dharmaraja.

"Who knows what we will get because of this device. It is opening a door that wasn’t open before," added Dharmaraja.

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