Braille Format
A student trying to read the Quran using Braille

Some 200 years after the Braille system was invented by Frenchman Louis Braille, a post-doctorate researcher from Georgia Tech., in the company of colleagues Brian Frey, Gregory Abowd, James Clawson and Kate Rosier, has developed a system of texting that can help the visually impaired use touch screens to send messages. Developed with Braille as the foundation, the device helps the visually challenged use the surface of the phone to type.

What could become a leading factor in its potential popularity is the speed the system - BrailleTouch - guarantees. What makes it more interesting and easy to learn is the voice-over that reads out the characters you punch in.

"We are hoping that, if not Braille, a similar system may solve the issue of having too many keys that are very small, forcing you to look at the screen while typing," say the researchers.

The primary user though will, hopefully, be the visually impaired individual who can now type six times faster than existing methods; an example of the latter is Apple's VoiceOver.

This innovation, which is set to launch in a few weeks, will be available for both Androids and Apple phones and is meant to be an open source programme which is available for free.

The system does not require any particular hand movement. The process requires you to wrap your index, middle and ring finger in a cusp around the phone and use your thumbs to punch in text.

This innovation comes shortly after European Union (EU) directive that came into practice across all member nations, at the end of 2010. The directive states that all packing used for medicines and essential commodities have mention of the content in Braille, to assist people with weak vision or blindness.

The International Association of Diecutting and Diemaking (IADD) has created "Can-Am Braille", a set of guidelines and recommendations for the use of Braille on pharmaceutical packaging. Another significant attempt by the European Parliament recently was the introduction of binding rules to ensure blind people's access to books.

The increase in use of Braille can be gauged by the fact that many popular cafes and restaurants in the UK (the likes of Pizza Express and Nandos are a good example) have developed menus incorporating Braille for the visually disadvantaged to order and eat food of their choice.

In the U.S., the administration has provided for drive-through cash machines that are Braille-enabled. There have been earlier instances when Braille was used on poisonous goods or products such as bleach bottles, with text saying "Do not drink", to keep the visually impaired safe.

Unfortunately, although this texting method is impressive, it does not find many takers. It is believed that only one per cent of the population of two million visually disabled in the UK use Braille in their day-to-day lives.

Meanwhile, Member of Parliament and Former Home Secretary David Blunkett believes people should learn Braille, adding that even the best computerised Braille displays and earpieces won't help as well having the information right there in front of you.

"There's always the threat of batteries running out or a device breaking, and U.S. studies have suggested Braille users are more likely to find work because they have a "greater grasp of literacy," he said.

The BBC suggests that there is, in the United Kingdom, 66 per cent of the population of those with only partial vision or no vision at all, grapple with unemployment.

The highest population of visually impaired reside in the Asian region, standing at 75 per cent of visually weak or challenged in the world. The high presence of visual imparities could be due to under development burdened by increasing population and the increase in number of elderly who form a good part of the burgeoning population.

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Courtesy: Georgia Tech