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Could this easy-to-learn tactile typeface replace braille?

ELIA Frames Kickstarter Campaign Video

Braille, the tactile writing system used by people who are visually impaired, helps transform life for people who are unable to see. It allows them to read information in books and magazines and, thanks to technologies like refreshable braille displays, on computers. However, not everyone is able to learn braille. Originated in 1824, the language wasn’t designed for ease of use, but rather around the technological capabilities of the tools of its day.

Entrepreneur Andrew Chepaitis discovered just how difficult braille can be when his grandmother lost her vision and was unable to pick up the new language. Working with his mother, a student of human factors design, Chepaitis went on to develop a new font which, he claims, is significantly easier to learn. Rather than taking months at a time to learn, Chepaitis’ ELIA Frames font can reportedly be learned in just a few hours. According to Chepaitis, after 5 to 11 years of learning braille, readers have an average reading speed of 23 words per minute. With ELIA, a person can achieve 25 words per minute after just 60 hours of study.

“We customized the standard alphabet for tactile reading,” he told Digital Trends. “It is raised print, optimized for a specific use case. We set about applying best practices from the field of human factors design to the standard alphabet. But standard alphabet letters weren’t made for tactile reading, so we pushed the basic elements of each letter to the edges of a given space by using a frame. We then added the core elements of the letters to the interior of the frame, and iteratively tested letter designs to identify what is easiest to feel.”

Chepaitis said that his ELIA Frames font could be used to help the roughly 8.4 million people in the U.S. and 284 million people worldwide who have a visual impairment. The ELIA Frames font can be added to a computer font library like Times New Roman, Helvetica or Arial. Going forward, the plan is to develop a commercial printer thath can print ELIA Frames documents.

To raise money, the team is currently hosting a Kickstarter campaign. While we offer all our usual warnings about the risks of crowdfunding campaigns, if you do want to get involved, a $25 pledge will (hopefully) secure you an ELIA Frames silicone overlay for your keyboard. Larger amounts will get you a learning starter kit or classroom kit. Shipping is set for September 2018.

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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