Braille is a writing system that was introduced to help blind people read in the 19th century and has been the standard for assisted reading ever since. Devised by French educator and inventor Louis Braille, it is a series of raised dots that represent letters.
The blind person can feel the dots and then interpret the written word. Braille is also used on phones, appliances, signs and other everyday gadgets.
Braille has been a wonderful tool to bring news and literature to the blind who otherwise would have to be read to or use books on tape. It has given the blind their own independence when it comes to the written word.
But its use has declined quite dramatically over the years due to a lack of available teachers, differences in emerging educational techniques, and technology.
Researchers at the the MIT Media Lab may make the use of Braille decrease even more with a new device known as the FingerReader.
The FingerReader is worn like a large ring on the finger but it's far more fancy! It contains a small camera that “reads” the printed word of any publication and reads the words aloud to the reader. Braille dots are not needed.
The advanced technology also lets a reader know (via a vibration) if they have to go to the next line or if their finger veers off the line and needs to go back into position.
Age-related visual impairment caused by macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma are quite common. Treatment is available and generally successful but many people will nonetheless need glasses or even more help due to age-related blindness.
According to the EmpowHER article “Implanted Telescope Improves Vision with Macular Degeneration”, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) “is the leading cause of serious vision loss in people over 50 years of age ... age-related macular degeneration is a progressive condition that causes the gradual deterioration of central vision. The inside lining of the back of the eye is made up of light-sensitive tissue called the retina.”
While there are treatments like the telescope featured in the article above, it may not work for all people (including those with glaucoma, cataracts, blindness caused by diabetes) and this FingerReader will help those who become unable to read on their own.
As we age, Braille may not be something we want to learn and audio books can be dated.
While many enjoy audio books with good voices doing the reading, audio does not include daily newspapers or weekly/monthly publications, something many older people enjoy and do not want to lose out on. The FingerReader will allow the visually impaired to stay in touch with current events far more easily.
The current downside is that the FingerReader is presently a prototype and is not available for sale. A date for availability has not yet been announced.
But when it is, its creators believe that not only will it change how the visually impaired live, it will also be affordable.
IMFScience.com. Health and Medicine. “New Finger Device Reads Books to the Blind.” Web. Retrieved August 5th, 2014.
EmpowHER.com. Eyes and Vision. Macular Degeneration. “Implanted Telescope Improves Vision with Macular Degeneration” Web. Retrieved August 5th, 2014.
Reviewed August 7, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith