[access-uk] Can Braille Be Faster Than QWRTY?

Greetings,

an interesting article here.

From: peter altschul <paltschul@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 21 Feb 2012 03:59:01 -0600

Can Braille be faster than QWERTY? App developer thinks so

By John D.  Sutter, CNN

(CNN) -- If Mario Romero has his way, we'll all be learning 
Braille soon.

The post-doc researcher at Georgia Tech University has 
co-developed an app, called BrailleTouch, that could help blind 
people send text messages and type e-mails on touch-screen 
smartphones without the need for expensive, extra equipment.  To 
use the app, people hold their phones with the screens facing 
away from them and punch combinations of six touch-screen buttons 
to form characters.  The app speaks a letter aloud after it's 
been registered, so there's no need to see the screen.

The system is designed for blind and visually impaired people, 
who otherwise have to purchase thousand-dollar machines or 
cumbersome "hover-over" (more on that later) keyboards to be able 
to type on no-button smartphones.  But Romero sees a spin-off for 
the technology: The touch-screen Braille keyboard is so fast that 
sighted people may start using it, too.

"It may be a solution for everybody to get their eyes off their 
phone so they can walk and text or watch TV and make a comment on 
a blog," he said by phone.  "It may free the sighted people's 
eyes" and help visually impaired people to type more easily.

The free app, which is being developed for Apple iOS and Google 
Android devices, should be available in a matter of weeks, he 
said.

So far, the app has only undergone limited tests, and Romero 
declined to make a pre-release version available to CNN.  In an 
11-person trial, however, he said, some Braille typists were able 
to go faster than they could on standard, QWERTY keyboards.  One 
visually impaired person, who was already familiar with Braille 
(you punch the six keys in various combinations to make letters) 
typed at a rate of 32 words per minute, Romero said, with 92% 
accuracy.  Romero himself, who never had used a Braille keyboard 
before, was able to type at about 25 words per minute with 100% 
accuracy after a week of practice, he said.

The app will undergo more rigorous testing before it's released, 
said Romero, who is a post-doctoral researcher at the 
university's School of Interactive Computing.  It was developed 
with the help of Brian Frey, Gregory Abowd, James Clawson and 
Kate Rosier.

Smartphones are generally pretty good at reading material on 
their screens to people who have vision problems, he said, but 
it's usually difficult to enter text on the devices.  To get a 
sense of what it's like for a blind person to use an iPhone you 
can go to Settings, General Accessibility, and turn the 
"VoiceOver" feature on.  When you touch a menu item, the iPhone 
reads the text aloud in a computerized voice.  To select 
something on the screen, you double-tap that item.  To scroll, 
you use three fingers.

All that works well, Romero said, but typing on an iPhone without 
buttons is a pain.  Another alternative, he said, is attaching a 
hardware Braille keyboard to a smarpthone, but those are 
difficult to carry and are expensive:

"The options (blind people) have right now are either too 
expensive and cumbersome or too slow.  Virtual keyboards and soft 
keyboards -- like Apple's voice-over keyboard -- are too slow.  
Or they have options to get hardware that costs several thousand 
dollars."

The new app may not alleviate all of those problems.  On Android 
phones, the BrailleTouch app can be programmed in as the phone's 
standard keyboard.  Because of restrictions on iOS, he said, that 
can't happen on an iPhone, so people who want to use the 
BrailleTouch keyboard have to open the app, type into a text 
document and then copy-paste that into an e-mail or text message.

Romero admits that this app isn't the end-all-be-all in typing.  
But it's helping create a future, as he said, when "one day we're 
not slaves to the screens."

Post by: John D.  Sutter -- CNN




Colin Howard, living near Southampton in Southern 
England.
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