Smartphones for the Blind


By Drew Muller Smart phones with Internet capability, voice command and a slew of other unnecessary yet utterly addicting features are the norm—a fact that 20 years ago would have combusted the craniums of our counterparts who thought their device with a machete-sized antenna was the pinnacle of advancement. Life pre-iPhone is unimaginable, and those who are still waiting to ride the revolution look at their ancient phones from 2001 and wonder what they’re missing.

Although smart phones dominate the globe, they are not fully universal. Their sleek screens feel like a slab of slate to the touch, leaving the visually impaired in the dark. There is an extreme concern among the blind community that the propagation of smart phones is making them “truly blind,” a legitimate worry due to the totally tactile nature of the devices. People who are visually impaired have had to resort to thousand-dollar machines or ineffective virtual keyboards, but a new development may alleviate their distress.

According to, an app called BrailleTouch is set to be released in a few weeks and will facilitate touch-screen typing for the visually impaired. Available for both Apple and Android devices, the app uses a system that is controlled with six fingers and does not require any movement of the hands. Users hold the phone horizontally with the screen facing away from them and wrap their index, middle and ring fingers of both hands around it. Unfortunately, the app can’t be programmed as the standard keyboard on the iPhone, though it can on Android phones, but the technology is a huge victory in opening touch-screen typing to the blind and visually impaired.

It’s also an act of reassurance that technology developers are continuing to keep people with disabilities like visual impairments in mind.

“I can tell you that the Apple website has a whole lot of info on how the iPhone, iPad and Mac are usable by blind people right out of the box,” Stephen Kuusisto, director of the Renée Crown University Honors Program, said. Kuusisto was born blind.

The app, which will be free and open-source, may even lessen the need for sighted people to look at their phones. They only need to take the time to memorize the braille keypad layout and are able to type on their phones without the need to avert their eyes from a TV show or the intersection they’re crossing.

BrailleTouch has limitations, although it’s a remarkable step in the right direction.

“The advent of assistive technology as a built-in feature of new pocket PCs and smart phones has transformed the lives of people with disabilities,” Kuusisto said. “It's a great new era!”

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