Literacy has been shown to be a key factor in global development. For many visually impaired communities around the world, learning braille is the only means of literacy. Despite its significance and the accessibility it brings, learning to write braille still has a number of barriers. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 90% of visually impaired people worldwide live in developing communities. Despite the importance of literacy to employment, social well-being, and health, the literacy rate of this population is estimated to be very low. There are many different factors that contribute to illiteracy among people with vision impairments such as: difficulties using the traditional tool for writing braille (the slate and stylus) and the high cost of alternative braille writing tools.
In response to the observed need for enhancing literacy for the blind in underserved communities, the TechBridgeWorld research group at Carnegie Mellon University developed the Braille Writing Tutor, an automated tutor with audio feedback that connects to a computer, to provide guided practice for beginners learning to write braille. A battery-powered standalone version of the tutor with onboard computing was also developed. Both versions aim to help users learn and practice writing braille through the slate and stylus method.
The Braille Writing Tutor (BT) is an intelligent tutoring device, which helps users learn and practice writing braille. As the user writes on the electronic slate with the stylus, the tutor provides immediate audio feedback by repeating the written dots, letters, numbers or words. The tutor also guides writing and corrects mistakes. The main objective is to teach braille writing through guided practice. The immediate audio feedback serves as a diagnostic tool for instructors, giving them a real-time understanding of what concepts the user did and did not grasp. Early versions of the BT have been field tested twice in India with our partner, the Mathru School for the Blind (2006 and 2008), once in Tanzania (2009), and have been introduced to schools and institutions in the United States, Bangladesh, China, Qatar, and Zambia. Pictured: Version 2 of the BT
The Stand-Alone Braille Writing Tutor (SABT) is the latest version of the BT that addresses the challenges of power failures and lack of access to computers in developing communities. Motivated by feedback from the Mathru School for the Blind and TechBridgeWorld’s user groups around the world, the SABT conserves all of the BT’s features, is designed to work without an external computer, and can operate with a built-in rechargeable battery pack. Moreover, the SABT includes three user interfaces (primary, intermediate and advanced) so that teachers can select the appropriate interface to match the skill level of the student.