This Braille learning tool could be a game changer for the blind community
Illiteracy in the blind community is a human rights issue that activists have struggled to address for decades. But a new innovation may provide a solution.
The is a Braille learning device that, simply put, teaches blind and low vision people how to read Braille. The simplicity of its purpose belies the complexity of the technology behind this new device, which was meticulously conceptualized and created to provide blind and low vision people with unparalleled instruction in Braille skills.
Here’s how it works: The Read Read allows independent learning through the same manipulative-based instruction teachers use to teach children how to read Braille. The device’s letter tiles feature sturdy Braille printed on metal, making it easier for those just learning Braille to decipher each letter by touch.
The device also speaks a letter out loud when a user touches a given tile, and announces the number of dots in each Braille letter. Through the device, a word created by lining up a series of tiles can be sounded out, helping with reading comprehension and “decoding” of a word.
“The Read Read can change the course of history for kids who are blind.”
The Read Read’s tiles also feature large-print letters, which help students with low vision learn Braille with the help of the limited sight they have.
“This is impressive,” Cory Kadlick, an assistive technology specialist at Perkins School for the Blind. Kadlick is blind and tested the device. “This isn’t something that’s going to go via the wayside and be done. It’s actually something that’s going to work out and succeed.”
The Read Read was created by Alex Tavares, a graduate student at the Harvard Innovations Lab. The device has been six years in the making and was piloted extensively at the Perkins School for the Blind and the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
“Up to this point, there hasn’t been a device that allows blind children to independently learn, and practice phonics and Braille using the same best practice that teachers use,” Tavares said. “Not only does the Read Read allow blind students to learn and practice Braille independently between meetings with a specialist, it also fosters independence, which is especially important for children who are blind.”
It is estimated that about in the U.S. are legally blind, and the majority of those individuals are illiterate. Only 8.5 percent of blind and low vision people receive enough instruction and education to learn Braille. But Braille language learning is essential for the blind community to thrive in a world that deeply values sight and literacy. That’s especially apparent in the workforce.
“This isn’t something that’s going to go via the wayside and be done. It’s actually something that’s going to work out and succeed.”
About of blind and low vision people are unemployed. But Blind adults who don’t know how to read Braille have a much higher unemployment rate than the community at large. A staggering 97 percent of non-Braille readers are unemployed.
Adults who do know how to read Braille, however, fare better in the job market, with the majority holding part-time or full-time jobs.
Many advocates blame too much reliance on technology for the sharp decline. But there’s also a shortage of Braille teachers in the U.S., with many blind and low vision students only able to see a specialist due to overbooking.
Tavares worked as a reading instructor for children and adults with disabilities for over 15 years and has a background in neuroscience and cognitive science. Tavares, who is not blind or low vision, said it was essential to include community input and advice into the development of the Read Read. He also tested the device on blind individuals with a range of other conditions including autism and muscular dystrophy.
“Everything from the size and thickness of the tiles, to the spacing of the area surrounding the Braille, to multiple means of picking up the tiles was designed with feedback from young children, teens, and adults who are blind,” he said.
Tavares used 3D printing to create prototypes of his designs, testing different iterations with blind children and adults at Perkins School for the Blind twice a week for 12 weeks.
The resulting device doesn’t only help blind and low vision children learn Braille independently. The Read Read, Tavares said, will also help teachers who don’t have Braille training interact with their blind students and take an active role in their education.
“Currently, literacy outcomes for children who are blind are abysmal.”
“Currently, literacy outcomes for children who are blind are abysmal,” he said. “It is vital that children who are blind are able to attend public schools with their peers. Before now, nobody had figured out a way for a typical classroom teacher to help their students learn and practice Braille between visits with a specialist. The Read Read allows any elementary teacher to deliver an existing phonics curriculum to students who are blind.”
Tavares is currently running a with the goal of equipping at least 400 blind or low vision students around the U.S. with a Read Read. Any extra money raised will go toward giving more units to children.
So far, the campaign has raised $11,000 of it $273,000 in the two weeks since its launch. Through the Kickstarter, supporters can pay $495 to receive a Read Read by November 2017.
Yes, the price may be steep. But the impact is undeniable.
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