Literacy has been shown to be a key factor in global development. However, for the 90% of visually impaired individuals that live in developing communities, literacy is estimated to be very low. For the visually impaired, learning Braille is generally the only means of literacy, but there are a number of barriers.
To address these barriers, the TechBridgeWorld research group at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) developed the Braille Writing Tutor (BT) and later, the Stand-Alone Braille Writing Tutor.
The main objective of these devices is to teach the skill of writing braille using the traditional slate and stylus through guided practice. The BT’s consists of an electronic slate which is connected to a computer through a USB cable. The BT slate area consists of two rows of sixteen braille cells. An alternate input area intended for younger braille learners consists of six buttons resembling an enlarged braille cell. A standard braille stylus is used and connects a circuit on the BT when its metal tip is inserted into a braille cell.
As the user writes on the electronic slate with the stylus, the BT software provides immediate audio feedback by repeating the written letters, numbers or words. The BT has many educational modes for users to learn how to write, practice writing, and to be quizzed on letters, words, and numbers. The software was designed to easily accommodate most braille languages and basic learning modes are now available in many different languages including English, Arabic, Bangla, Chinese, French, Hindi, Kannada, and Kiswahili.
The BT also has modes for educational games. Several educational games have been developed for the BT including an animal sounds game, everyday noises game, hangman, dominoes, and a music-maker game, which are intended as a further motivation factor for learning to write braille.
The BT was originally developed in 2006 in collaboration with the Mathru School for the Blind in Bangalore in India. Since then, TechBridgeWorld has tested versions of the device with partner organizations in Tanzania, Bangladesh, China, Qatar, Zambia and the United States.