The need for braille could soon become a thing of the past with a 3-D printed device that converts text to speech in seconds as the visually impaired scan newspapers, books, menus or what ever strikes their fancy. The ability for the blind to read away from the home or office would me a major step forward.
How the FingerReader works
According to the Roy Shilkrot, one of the scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who developed the device, it’s as simple as pointing the index finger at the text. The accompanying software identifies the text and processes it into a synthesized voice nearly immediately. The device also vibrates to alert the “reader” when they stray to far from the text they are trying to have read to them.
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Jerry Berrier, 62, especially likes the “FingerReader” for his trips to the doctors office and has nothing but praise for MIT’s Media Lab. “When I go to the doctor’s office, there may be forms that I wanna read before I sign them,” Berrier said.
For Jerry Berrier, 62, who was born blind, the promise of the FingerReader is its portability and offer of real-time functionality at school, a doctor’s office and restaurants. Berrier works as an advocate for the blind and deaf and manages training and evaluation of devices for a federal program which distributes tech to low-income people in New England working from the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts.
“Everywhere we go, for folks who are sighted, there are things that inform us about the products that we are about to interact with. I wanna be able to interact with those same products, regardless of how I have to do it,” Berrier said.
Some limitations of the FingerReader device
Pattie Maes, an MIT professor which heads the group that developed the FingerReader described the advancement as “reading with the tip of your finger and it’s a lot more flexible, a lot more immediate than any solution that they have right now.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau there are around 11.2 million people in the United States that are seriously vision impaired. Shilkrot believes that once put into production the FingerReader can be affordable but wouldn’t guess what it would be likely listed at when released.
Shilkrot maintains that the FingerReader is not a substitute for Braille, but would provide access to numerous books, journals, and magazines that are not available in Braille.
It’s not yet a perfect device. Users still struggle to find the starting point of text and it doesn’t work with touchscreen devices as the text moves when the user scans the text though disabling the touch screen can mitigate the problem.
“Any tool that we can get that gives us better access to printed material helps us to live fuller, richer, more productive lives, Berrier said.