Modern braille technologies are too expensive for distribution in developing countries, where 90% of blind people reside. The primitive slate and stylus remain the most accessible braille-writing implements, despite Louis Braille himself having sought to develop more usable tools.
I propose to set up low-cost, blind-accessible makerspaces, where blind individuals will learn to construct assistive devices and prototype their own design ideas. Accessible makerspaces will enable blind people to continue the work of Braille and Foucault, the blind inventors who spearheaded tactile writing technologies nearly two centuries ago.
Over the past two years, I have collaborated with several blind men at WORTH Trust in Tamilnadu, India, to establish and upgrade a blind-accessible construction workshop. Future accessible makerspaces, modeled on the Tamilnadu facility, can be fully equipped for less than $2000 (USD).
With the Tamilnadu workers’ cooperation, I’ve developed a “sightless construction” protocol, whereby blind individuals can fabricate a six-button braille label-maker (the “Braille-It” labeler). Braille labeling of everyday items (e.g., food/medicine packaging, appliance buttons, audio media) supports the personal organization and productivity of visually-impaired users; it also offers a gentle introduction to braille writing and reading.
Blind makers can construct Braille-It labelers entirely via tactile feedback, using adapted construction methods and custom jigs that I’ve designed concurrently with the labeler itself. Braille-It is made from low-cost, locally-available materials, such as sheet metal, steel wire, and common hardware. Similar efforts are underway for blind-accessible construction of white canes, tactile drawing tools, and braille typewriters.
Commercial markets have long overlooked the needs of blind people, especially in the developing world. Accessible makerspaces can empower blind individuals in developing countries to apply their determination and ingenuity to the ongoing development and refinement of low-cost, blind-assistive tools .