7 Braille

7 Braille Keyboard

A keyboard app for blind users.


Recognitions

US Patent 9684448


Timeline

2014, 6 months


Role

Lead


Team

2 developers, 1 designer, 1 researcher

Problem

On a smartphone, typing is the most frequently used yet most inaccessible feature for visually impaired users. In recent past, feature phones with physical keyboard were equal substitute of smartphones, however thats not the case anymore. 


  1. To type a character, users have to move their finger around to hear and identify the character. 
  2. All this is done on a densely populated keyboard (~40 keys) in a small area. 
  3. Advanced features like autocomplete, cursor movement, text selection, symbols etc are not available with screenreaders.

Background

The sighted and non-sighted live in different perceptual worlds. Vision has been described as “a framework into which all spatial sensations can be integrated”. Due to strong integration capability of vision, our interfaces with machines have primarily moved towards Graphic User Interfaces (GUI). With heavy reliance on visual metaphors and graphic interaction tools (mouse, touchpad, touchscreen), visually impaired users have found it increasingly difficult to interact with ubiquitous gadgets. Mobile phones being the most noted example. This has resulted in a disturbing trend where marginalized users have to face technological apathy instead of inclusive growth. 


At the same time, user centered design approach has made ubiquitous technologies more intuitive and functional for mainstream user segments. This project applies same principles for Visually Impaired users and reimagines one of the most used features (typing) on touchscreen phones.


There are many Braille keyboard apps available, most prominent one being the iOS native one. Most of these apps are based on either touching dots (iOS) or connecting dots (ours). Surprisingly, Android does not have any pre-loaded/default options for Braille typing yet.


Other typing options such as hardware keyboards are upwards of USD 1000, and can be a thing of past if powerfull software solutions are created.

7 Braille

It is essentially SwiftKey for the Blind! 


7 Braille Keyboard is a simple and intuitive keyboard app. It is based on Braille pattern, wherein user has to “draw” the pattern out across a UI showing 6 Braille pins. S/he is assisted with sound, vibration and high-contrast colors. In portrait mode, users can type and in landscape mode users can edit text.


View UX Specs here or the video above to understand its working.


Scalable:

  • Intuitive for partially blind and completely blind users alike
  • Works for Grade 1 and Grade 2 Braille.
  • Supports all languages, such as English, Hindi, French, Tamil etc.

Intuitive:

  • Same Braille pattern as paper
  • Forgiving interface, easy to correct errors
  • Single finger usage
  • Big "box" pattens with very high contrast

Powerfull:

  • In landscape mode, app provides editing features such as text selection, autocorrect and autocomplete, copy-paste, only app to provide these for blind users.
  • It is futureproof, technologies like AI/ML and voice recognition can further complement this interface and significantly increase its speed and accuracy.

It is the fastest typing interface on touchscreen for visually impaired users.


View US Patent here.

User Research

While I was working on SimplEye app, we received numerous praises for its keyboard experience. This feedback motivated us make 7 Braille as a standalone app.


Since its inception, this project was defined and in true sense co-created with the users. We interviewed and installed beta with 500+ users to get continuous feedback.


Amongst its iterations defined by users, the 3 main versions are mentioned below:

Version 1: It was a 6 box layout with a screengaurd that had embossed markings complementing the UI on screen. Users found it too intuitive so we dropped the screengaurd.


Version 2: This one was a black and white UI with 6 boxes and safe areas between adjacent boxes. Users felt identifying the 3 rows was easy enough and there was no need to have 6 boxes.


Version 3: This is the final version displayed in pictures above. This has a colorful (contrasting) layout of 3 rows. Alongside, it also has a safe area in center