Monday, April 5, 2010

Are You Awake Enough to Read this Braille Article?

Good morning. I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter. Where I'm at it's still a bit early in the morning. When this Scientific American article on Braille displays used to read text on the Web came up in my RSS subscription, I admit I had to read it a couple times over to understand what they're going on about. I should probably head back to bed, or make myself some coffee.

A 40-cell Braille reader

Seriously though, this stuff is pretty cool. We folks who have trouble hearing need captions on our videos, but most of the entire Web is inaccessible to the blind. There are currently readers for the Web that many blind people use. They read Braille output of text on the Web using "a touchable row of finger-sized rectangular cells lined up side by side like dominoes. [...] Each time a person reads the row of Braille with his fingers (left to right), the pin configurations refresh to represent the next line of a Web page's text, and so on." As you might imagine, that is slow, and frustrating.

Luckily, science marches on, and North Carolina State University researchers have come up with a way to display 25 rows of text at a time. So Braille readers can backtrack, move forward, and navigate more easily. Naturally this tech is going to make the readers cost more, so the researchers are using magic to fix that problem. No, just kidding. They have two possible ways of fixing it - both of which are outlined in the article.

Reading Braille is an important issue in the blind community. Some people say that blind people can just use speech synthesizers, to read the Web out loud to them (the library where I work uses a Kurzweil system of reading text aloud). However, learning Braille is an important skill for people with sight difficulties. According to the article, 90% of people in this population who have jobs can read Braille, but only 10% of blind children are learning Braille.

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