Carnegie Mellon University TechBridgeWorld
Automated Braille Writing Tutor: Seeking to improve literacy among visually impaired youth

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Approximately 87% of the world’s 314 million blind and visually impaired people live in developing communities, according to the World Health Organization. [1] Despite the importance of literacy to employment, social well-being, and health, experts have estimated the literacy rate of this population at under 3%. [2]

In developing communities braille is almost always written with a slate and stylus. Using these tools, English braille is written in reverse, from right to left, so that the page can be read from left to right when it is flipped over. For blind children, learning to write braille in this manner can be a challenging process. First, children must learn mirror images of all letters, which essentially doubles the alphabet. Second, feedback is delayed until the paper is removed and then flipped over and read, so it may take significantly longer to identify mistakes and correct them. Third, children may not be able to receive the individual attention and guidance needed to learn. Finally, the paper they use may be expensive or in limited supply.

[1] "Fact sheet 282: Visual impairment and blindness,"
World Health Organization, May 2009.

[2] E. Helander, Prejudice and dignity: an introduction to community-based rehabilitation.
New York: UNDP, 1998.

Automated Braille Writing Tutor

Through vital feedback from our partners and creative energy of student and faculty researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, TechBridgeWorld developed a unique device for braille writing practice. The Automated Braille Writing Tutor consists of an electronic slate and stylus that is connected to a computer through a USB cable. As the student writes each letter on the slate with the stylus, the tutor provides immediate audio feedback by repeating the written letters and words. In turn, it also guides writing and correct mistakes. The tutor has many modes where children can learn how to write, practice writing, and be quizzed on letters and words. It also has modes for educational games. The Automated Braille Writing Tutor and its accompanying software are intended to complement instruction provided by teachers as a practice tool for individuals beginning to learn braille writing.

Project Goals

  • Design, implement, and test an automated braille writing tutor with partner organizations in developing communities
  • Develop a braille writing tutor based on the slate and stylus method which is commonly used in developing communities
  • Create a robust, low-cost, and low-power braille writing tutor using a digital stylus that interfaces to a computer, PDA, or SimPuter interface
  • Use text-to-speech software to provide immediate audio feedback to guide students’ writing and correct mistakes at different learning levels

Research Questions

  • Is implementing the tutor feasible in developing communities?
  • How do environmental limitations affect design?
  • What design features are most relevant to visually-impaired children learning to write braille in developing communities?
  • Which children benefit the most from using the tutor?
  • How is the tutor best incorporated into the learning process?
  • Which learning techniques facilitate the best automated responses from the tutor?
  • What types of feedback are best provided by the tutor?
  • What exercises and educational games are best used by the tutor?
  • What types of feedback do users of the tutor respond to best?
  • Can the Automated Braille Writing Tutor be expanded beyond just being a writing tutor?
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