Boston nonprofit building ‘Kindle to the blind’
I recently learned of an achievement gap I never knew existed because I had presumed that technology had smoothed over the problem years ago: About 85 percent of blind people can’t read Braille, and that is making most of them unemployable, says Brian Mac Donald, president of National Braille Press, a Boston-based literacy organization.
Ironically, it is technology — particularly in the form of talking computers and talking books — that is partly to blame for the problem, Mac Donald said.
“Cognitive studies have shown that just listening to and rewinding a tape is not the same as being able to read and reread in Braille,’’ he said.
Another problem: While sighted folks are picking up $500 laptops and tablet PCs, blind people have to shell out $6,000 or more for electronic note-taking devices with Braille readers, Mac Donald said.
National Braille Press is working to build a prototype Android device, a “Kindle to the blind,’’ as Mac Donald calls it, that he expects will cost about $2,000.
The organization is also backing the development of a Braille-embossing machine that would cost consumers a couple of hundred dollars, rather than several thousand.
The Android device, called Braille Wizard, will resemble a tablet PC and have GPS and 3G cellular service for text messaging and file downloads.
It will be about 7 1/2 inches long by 4 inches wide and 1 inch thick, with a plastic panel on the face through which pins move up and down to form Braille characters and tactile graphics — be they boats, ducks, charts, or graphs.
The Braille Wizard will also have an accelerometer, which means the device might make an excellent gaming platform.
Last week, National Braille awarded $10,000 to a Northeastern University research team that retrofitted a Braille embosser to replace the ink cartridges in an ordinary inkjet printer. The device can be used to print e-mails and other material from the Internet.
Playstation Move is off to a fast startI just took my first shot at playing games created for the Playstation Move controller, and I am happy to report that Sony’s new system — its wireless remotes, topped with glowing orbs, are tracked with the help of a camera called the Eye — is incredibly well-crafted.
Three of the games that I have tried for the Move — Sports Champions: Kung Fu Rider, Start the Party, and EyePet — tightly weave a player’s hand movements into the action onscreen. There are already dozens that are compatible with the system.
My daughters, ages 4 and 7, are hooked on Start the Party, which includes simple carnival games.
While playing Whac-a-Mole, you see yourself onscreen wielding a mallet in the place where the Move controller should be. In other parts of Start the Party, you might be holding a pizza, a flyswatter, or a paintbrush.
The effect is marvelously convincing.
But for Move games to work best, be sure to position yourself within the Eye camera’s line of sight and be at least (in my experience, so far) six feet from the unit in front of your TV screen.