A Prize-Winning Bridge to Braille
A project that uses technology to help blind children worldwide learn to write braille has received a major award named after none other than Louis Braille himself.
TechBridgeWorld, directed by Dr. Bernadine Dias, is a research group within Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute that develops state-of-the-art technology that is accessible and relevant to technologically underserved areas of the world. One of the center’s initiatives, the Stand Alone Braille Tutor, or SABT, recently received the 2014 Louis Braille Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation to recognize its contribution to promote Braille literacy.
The $20,000 award is presented by the National Braille Press’ Center for Braille Innovation and is sponsored by the Gibney Family Foundation.
The SABT is an enhanced version of a Braille writing device that has been developed over the past several years by TechBridge World. The Fetzer Institute supported TechBridgeWorld in conducting user testing of the SABT, most recently at a school for the blind in India.
Fetzer Program Officer Mohammed Mohammed noted Fetzer's partnership with TechBridgeWorld has been fruitful, "the likes of TechBridge fill in the widening research and development (R&D) and market gaps by delivering high-quality solutions to those who are disabled."
Writing in Braille with a slate and stylus is not intuitive. In Braille, each character is formed on paper using a subset of six embossed dots placed in a cell of two columns and three rows. To create English Braille characters, letters are written backwards and from right to left, so that when the paper is removed from the slate and turned over, the characters read from left to right. The automated tutor, which connects to a laptop computer, provides a student with audio feedback to address challenges associated with learning this skill.
“The Braille Writing Tutor has been one of our most successful projects to date,” said Dr. Dias. “We’ve seen the profound impact it has had on blind and visually impaired students and their teachers in the communities where we have been fortunate to test the tutor, and its potential for impact in so many more communities around the world. We are thrilled and humbled that the Touch of Genius Prize judges saw fit to recognize this achievement.”
Building on insights derived from local realities and user behavior, TechBridgeWorld designs and delivers bottom-of-pyramid computing technologies to communities around the world. The organization invents new tools and customizes existing techologies to fit local needs. The key ingredient in the group’s success consists of deep listening and involving the direct beneficiaries in the solution development process.
The SABT project was designed to inspire young engineering students to consider and commit to service-oriented careers, to create testing opportunities for Braille tutor prototypes, to compile and refine new user requirements for the devices and to refine prototypes and help move them into broader usage.
This is a project of the Fetzer Advisory Council on Engineering.