Just like anyone, being educated and literate is essential to the well being of people who are visually impaired. Education gives the visually impaired the opportunity to thrive, contribute to society, and have a successful career. Literacy in the Braille system is so crucial to the employment of the visually impaired that 80 percent of the visually impaired who are employed can read Braille.
However, in recent years, the Braille literacy rates has been on the decline. Today, less than 10 percent of the visually impaired children can read Braille, where as the number was about 50 percent in 1950. The consequences? Over 70 percent of visually impaired adults are unemployed.
One reason for this trend is the lack of access to a Braille education. There is far fewer Braille teachers in America compare to the number of visually impaired students.
According to the National Federation of the Blind, "There is a chronic shortage of teachers who are qualified to teach Braille. It was reported in 2003 that there were approximately 6,700 fulltime teachers of blind students serving approximately 93,600 students"
Another reason for this trend can be traced to the advancement and availability of personal audio player and text-to-speech technology, which eliminated the need for the visually impaired to understand Braille in order to gather information. While audio gives student information, it doesn't teach them reading and writing skills, such as grammar, spelling and composition, all of which is essential to literacy.
“Audio can give you information, but it can’t give you literacy,” said Chris Danielsen, a member of the National Federation of the Blind.
According to Jim Marks, a board member of the Association on Higher Education and Disability, "We stopped teaching our nation’s blind children how to read and write."
The vision for Knobo is a system of computer application and HID (human interface device) that will take full advantage of computer speech-to-text technology to aid the Braille education, rather than harming it. The computer application will serve as a learning platform, where the user will have access to digital Braille courses. In short, the app will be a Duolingo for Braille. The app will output audio instructions, and the student will use the Knobo HID to input Braille and navigate the app.
With Knobo, Braille education will be more accessible than ever, and I hope that this project will be a step towards reversing the trend of Braille illiteracy.
The learning platform for Knobo is still under development. In the current state of the project, Knobo is a ultra-portable HID (human interface device) that serves 2 purposes: allows the the visually impaired to learn and practice the Braille system independently, and makes it easy for the visually impaired to navigate and type on a computer.
For the visually impaired who are learning Braille, Knobo is an excellent learning tool. Traditionally, a Braille instructor is needed to confirm that the word or letter that the student wrote is correct. With Knobo, the student will get immediate audio feedback on what Braille letter or word they just wrote, which makes it perfect for when the student is practicing Braille at home, or doesn't have access to a Braille instructor.
For the visually impaired that are familiar with Braille but have no experience with computers, there is a steep learning curve before they can use a keyboard or a traditional Braille writer. With Knobo, they can start typing right away, not to mention it's a far more compact than a standard keyboard, and have an additional scrolling / reading knob.
How it works
Knobo is compatible with JAWS, Voiceover (Mac), and Narrator (Windows).
No device driver is needed to use Knobo. The user can start using Knobo immediately after connecting it to the computer using a standard USB cable.
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