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Nick Speal

Software Engineer

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Braille University

Overview

Braille University is an iOS application that helps instructors teach Braille to their students. The app connects to physical input and output peripherals over bluetooth and makes extensive use of text-to-speech audio to ensure it is fully accessible without any visual UI.

Refreshable Braille Displays are a somewhat recent technology that allow people to read arbitrary text from a computer in Braille. This has significant advantages over text-to-speech in that the reader can actively control the pace, and over traditional braille books in terms of portability and the quantity of content available. Usually people learn braille with physical pieces of paper and books, but as the availability of Braille Displays increases, there is more demand to learn to read using the new technology.

The Braille University App allows a teacher to type letters, words, and phrases and instantly renders them on the Braille Display for the student to read. The lessons are saved for the student to review again later.

Background Motivation

In recent years, there has been a major decline in braille literacy and a push to get people learning it again. The statistics show that it is tremendously important for a visually impaired individual to know braille to hold steady employment, yet more and more people are relying on text-to-speech technology for reading. This is due to the shift from books and paper to computers and phones, and the improvement in audio and speech technology. Learning to read bumps from a large heavy book has become very unappealing, and requires feedback from the instructor to practice. Braille University leverages the power and portability of the iPhone to encourage users to learn Braille even in the modern world.

Acknowledgements

This application was developed with equal contribution from Michael King, Martin Menna, and Nick Speal. We would like to acknowledge the support of Dalia El-Shimy and Prof. Jeremy Cooperstock at McGill University for their review, and Natalie Martiniello and Prof. Anne Jarry at the University of Montreal for their user feedback and funding.