Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Touchable Online Braille Generator

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Touchable Online Braille Generator

Article excerpt

A prototype of a touchable online Braille generator has been developed for the visually impaired or blind using force feedback technology, which has been used in video games for years. Without expensive devices, this prototype allows blind people to access information on the Web by touching output Braille displays with a force feedback mouse. The data collected from user studies conducted with blind participants has provided valuable information about the optimal conditions for the use of the prototype. The end product of this research will enable visually impaired people to enjoy information on the Web more freely.

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The United States has made some attempts to nationally address information access for those with disabilities. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (www.section508.gov) requires federal agencies to make their electronic information accessible to people with disabilities, mainly those who are visually impaired. The Library of Congress launched a Web-Braille service (www.loc.gov/nls/) for the blind in 1998, which continues today. With the upsurge in information stored on the Internet, the importance of these issues cannot be overemphasized.

Many products have been developed to help the visually impaired use technology. Several Braille output and input devices are available, such as the Braille Notetaker (www. artictech.com) and voice synthesizers for screen readers like JAWS (www. freedomscientific.com/fs_products/ software_jaws.asp).

While these products are mainly for textual information, recent developments put more focus on graphical displays. The American National Institute of Standards and Technology proposed a "Pins" Down Imaging System for the Blind (www.nist.gov/ public affairs/factsheet/visualdisplay.htm). Uniplan in Japan and KSG America (www.kgs-america.com/ dvs.htm) have produced other products based on similar ideas. Software like the Duxbury Braille Translator (www.duxburysystems.com) can translate plain text into Braille output, which can then be used for embossed printing. However, such products are fairly expensive, ranging from hundreds to several thousands of dollars in addition to the cost of computers.

Fortunately, there is a potentially promising solution. Based on the technology used in prior research, it is possible to develop an online Braille generator. (1) The Braille could then be read either by touching the screen with a fingertip sensor or through the use of a force feedback mouse similar to the type used in some video games. (2)

This application has several advantages over existing devices. First, it does not require expensive special devices--only a $20 mouse, which is readily available. Also, the technology is available as long as there is access to the Internet. Another advantage is that this technology utilizes the existing Braille skills of visually impaired people. The same technology can be used for producing image displays as well, allowing for the creation of a virtual museum for the blind where they can touch objects that are displayed alongside their Braille descriptions.

Literature review

Force feedback has been studied under the name of haptic perception. Haptic perception involves sensing the movement and position of joints, limbs, and fingers through kinesthesia and proprioception, and sensing information through the skin's tactility. (3) Haptic output can be achieved through several techniques, including pneumatic, vibrotactile, electrotactile, and electromechanical stimulation. (4) This study examines only vibrotactile haptic output methods because vibrotactile stimulation is easily created, manipulated, and delivered. It is also easily perceived by users through the use of commonly available software and devices.

Researchers have be gun to develop various haptic input/output devices and software, such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) frequently used Phantom haptic interface. …

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