Even though the invention of Braille was a great innovation, allowing blind and visually impaired people to read, write and, in a general way, to communicate with everyone knowing the system, it has several limitations.
The first and obvious limitation is that it can only be used by people knowing it and, let's face it, most people does not. Other limitation is that it, in order to produce contents in Braille, specific tools are needed, such as "Braille typewriters".
These limitations are a setback in the relation our "visual society" deals with this system. There are not many books or general publications made in Braille, which makes it hard for people who cannot read to obtain information. Sure, there are ways of going around this and there are other ways to obtain that information, but "reading" has a unique feeling for everyone, regardless of their visual acuity.
Bringing Printed Language To Life
How amazing would it be for blind and visually impaired people to take any completely regular book or magazine and read it, from start to finish? Well, it is not exactly so easy as this, but Portáctil is as close to that felling as it can get for now.
Portáctil, developed by the Instituto Federal do Ceará (Ceará Federal Institute), is a piece of hardware with a mouse resembling shape (even though it was initially thought to be designed as a pen) which, together with a tablet, scans and "translates" printed text into Braille.
The gadget is small, light, portable and very easy to use. Its main feature is the set of three Braille cells on top of the device - each consists of several pins which go up and down in order to construct the Braille characters, which are then felt by the user's fingers. Underneath those cells there are six other buttons which help in the navigation. There is a button on each side of the device, which goes for the next or the previous line of text. Finally, in the lower part there is the optic sensor, not very different from a mouse's sensor.
How Does Portáctil Work, Exactly?
As I stated before, Portáctil consists in a device, which resembles a common computer mouse, together with a tablet. Actually, everything "behind the scenes" (this is, what happens before the Braille characters are formed in the device) takes place within the tablet.
The first step is for the user to capture the text using the tablet's camera. Obviously, this has to be done using a specific imaging software, developed by the team behind this project. Via Bluetooth, this data is then sent to the Braille device, where the user can define a reading speed according to his needs and preferences.
The software also allows for users to write in different ways. One way is to use the provided "mask" keyboard, having keys identified with Braille characters, which is placed over the tablet to match the on-screen QWERTY keyboard.
You can watch a video (in Portuguese) explaining Portáctil more in detail below:
Portáctil is yet another Brazilian project willing to make a stand on social inclusion, easing the lives of the blind and visually impaired people.