Could Braille Touch app revolutionize texting?


Would anyone describe typing on an iPhone as a pleasant experience?

I think the answer lies in all those “sent from iPhone, excuse any iTypos” signatures out there.

Here to texters’ rescue is Braille Touch, a new app that enables people to type messages on an Android or iOS touch screen without having to look down.

The app is designed for people who are visually impaired, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t use it too.


“We have become slaves to keyboards that are too small and that have too many buttons,” Mario Romero, a post-doctoral fellow at Georgia Tech’s School for Interactive Computing and the lead researcher on a paper about Braille Touch, said in an interview with The Times. “Almost everyone has to look at the keyboard when they send a text message. We lose sight every time we text. And I don’t think that’s right.”

Braille Touch would change that. It is based on Computer Braille, a system of typing that allows users to input up to 63 characters through pressing different combinations of just six buttons -- three on each side of the phone. Users of this new typing system hold the phone facing away from the body, using the middle three fingers of each hand to chord in letters, numbers and characters such as exclamation points and the “at” sign. Spaces and backspaces can be entered through gestures of flicking left or right on the phone.

In user tests conducted by the Georgia Tech researchers, some visually impaired people were able to reach up to 32 words per minute with 92% accuracy with a prototype app for the iPhone.

The researchers, who plan to launch the app for free for Android and iOS devices, are especially concerned about making smartphones more accessible to people who have impaired vision, but they also think the overall QWERTY system -- which was designed in 1870 -- could use an overhaul.

“Whether it’s Braille Touch or whether Braille Touch just points the way to some other coded alphabet, I think we should move away from the QWERTY keyboard,” Romero said.

The team at Georgia Tech will spend the next several months conducting studies to see whether people are willing to take the time to learn a new way of typing.


Romero said he was able to learn the code in about a week of playing around with the app while walking from his car to his house.

In the meantime, Romero and his colleagues are working to get Braille Touch out as soon as possible. The keyboard is ready, they say, but they want to make sure the directions for how to use it are accessible to the visually impaired.


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