This all took place at Stanford University as part of an intensive summer course on the wonders of advanced computing. Students are invited from universities all over the US, and either in small groups or as individuals they are given a challenge to solve.
This past summer Adam Duran, an undergraduate at New Mexico State University, was tasked with coming up with a way to make an accessibility tool for visually impaired students.
Adam and his mentors weren’t planning to create this app at first, but after looking at the problems they could solve they noticed that the larger issue was writing, not reading. Writing in Braille is difficult because the equipment is expensive and awkward. A braille keyboard is based around 8 keys and it’s built into expensive custom hardware. If they could find a way to replace the hardware with a tablet then they’d be able to get the equipment into the hands of far more students.
But the problem with trying to type on a touchscreen is that there is no tactile feedback. You can’t tell based on touch whether your finger is on a button or on whitespace. This means that even the best typist needs to occasionally look at the screen and make sure their fingers are hitting the right keys. Naturally a visually impaired student will have trouble with this.
What the team ended up doing was developing an app that adapted to the user rather than have the user adapt to the app. The app is designed to duplicate a Braille keyboard, which has only 8 keys. But instead of having the user find the keys, the app finds the user’s fingers. You can watch the demo video for more detail.
This is a concept that won’t work so well with a traditional keyboard, but clearly it works on the more limited design. It’s a rather clever way to get around the fact that a touchscreen doesn’t offer tactile feedback.
There’s no word on when this app will be released.