I confess that I am having some difficulty answering your question
about what electronic/computer devices your company should design
for blind and visually impaired people. I think that our problem
with respect to technology is both economic and technical.
First, the economic. There is alot of technology out there for us
to buy. We can buy a plethora of screen reading software for our
computers. We can buy speech synthesizers, scanners, braille
embossers, and so forth (I think you get the idea). However, we
are hampered from buying the technology we might want because of
its relatively high cost with respect to commercial technology.
Consider screen reading software for the PC. Although computer
prices have dropped dramatically, screen reader prices have not.
We must still spend around a thousand dollars U.S. to acquire a
screen reader. This is about the same price we had to pay when
screen reading software first hit the market.
The cost of the Perkins Brailler, which alot of blind people prize
highly, has been rising steadily over the years. When I was in the
first grade, around 1960, my parents bought me a Perkins Brailler
(which I still use to this day) for around $100 U.S. Today, the
same piece of equipment costs around $700 U.S., and its quality is
not as good as the thirty-six-year-old brailler I have. So,
something needs to be done to bring the price of technology down.
Now to the technical, which is (I am sure) more of what you had in
mind. What technology not currently available should your company
go to work on? Well, that would depend upon how much capital you
have available to you and on how much research you would want to do
to develop the end result.
For example, one of the notions I have been toying with is the idea
that we should not have to use access technology for computers
which must dig deep into the operating system to obtain the
information it needs to tell us what is happening on the screen.
Given enough intelligence in a computing system, a piece of
equipment should be able to look visually at a computer display and
tell us everything that a sighted person would know. This is a
long term hope, at best, but it gives you an idea of the potential
scope of any solution you might want to go to work on.
Many of us would dearly love to have a refreshable braille display
which does not cost $100 U.S. per braille cell. Many have tried to
develop such a device, but so far, no one has succeeded. This is
frustrating when you consider that all we want to do is to be able
to move a bunch of pins rapidly up and down over a very short
distance--a fraction of an inch.
I have been trying for years to have somebody design a non-magnetic
compass as a travel aid for the blind. Although this is by no
means an essential ingredient for independent travel (confidence
and good travel skills being far more important), it would
Another electronic item that might be useful is a universal
mechanism that will enable us to communicate with VCR's,
televisions, remote-controlled stereos, CD players, and the like.
Although it is certainly possible for blind people to operate
remote controls, there is no way for us to receive information
about the responses that may be displayed on a television screen.
With regard to VCR's, on-screen proramming--regarded as a desirable
feature in the commercial market--is not helpful to the blind.
Most of us can't program the VCR's we buy, having to depend upon
the "daughter or son come here" approach.
You might be thinking perhaps that a turn-key computer system for
the blind would be a good thing to develop. I strongly discourage
such an effort as I believe there are sufficient devices out there.
As examples, I cite the Braille 'n Speak, the Artic TransType, the
Myna, and the Keynote system from Humanware. Although all of us
might find opportunities to complain about the high cost of such
technology, the fact is that the technology exists and is now
It would appear that there is no simple answer to the question of
what you and your research company should be develping for the
blind. Much of what you could develop requires years of research
before any benefit or usable product will be realized. Other
things that you might develop are already in the marketplace,
albeit at a higher price than blind people might like. However, I
am sure that others on the NFB-RD mailing list will make more
specific and perhaps more practical suggestions.
National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science
Date: Thu, 23 Jan 1997 18:49:22 -0800
From: Iain Murray <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Multiple recipients of list <email@example.com>
Subject: Wish list
I have started a research company with the idea of designing
electronic/computer devices for blind and low vision people.We have access to a
means of developing such devices without incuring the normal research costs and
therefore can produce items that would normally be uneconomical (low demand
for specilised equipment) to put in production.
So if you can think of anything you would like to be produced to aid the vision
impaired email me and I will see what can be done.
-- Iain Murray Technical Officer Re-Able Technologies Rehabilitation Engineers C/O Accociation for the Blind WA 16 Sunbury Rd Victoria Park 6100 Australia Ph 61 9 311 8202 E-Mail :firstname.lastname@example.org
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