Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Touch Screen Keyboard Difficulty for the Blind: A Potential Solution

There's been a lot of talk about VoiceOver on the iPhone 3G S... and so there should be. I suspect (and others seem to concur) that Apple's model for touch screen accessibility ought to be quite useable under most circumstances, but that typing on the touch screen keyboard could be rather challenging, perhaps the most challenging aspect of the interface.

Thinking about this, I had a brainwave: perhaps a Braille touch screen keyboard could be a nicer solution for blind users. A Braille keyboard doesn't require you to shift your fingers horizontally or vertically, which eliminates the challenge of finding characters. Instead, you only need to raise or lower your fingers in various combinations. I'm guessing that the multi-touch touch screen should be able to detect these combinations. I can't remember how big the touch screen on the iPhone is, but I suspect it is probably large enough to allow for the fingers to be placed in Braille typing formation. I can't type as fast on a braille keyboard as I can on a QWERTY keyboard, but I'm a hell of a lot faster on a Braille keyboard than on a phone keypad. In fact, I'm wondering whether this method of input would actually be faster (assuming a proficient Braille typist) than a sighted user using the normal touch screen keyboard.

Surely I'm not the first to wonder about this... or is this really a new idea?


  1. This is absolutely a brilliant idea. If Apple doesn't pick it up, someone should get to writing an iPhone app to allow braille input.

  2. I want to know why I didn't think of that myself.. that would probably actually work really well. Well thought out.

  3. In portrait mode, it would probably not work on the iPhone, but in landscape mode the screen offers enough room for six fingers plus a thumb for the space bar. This is a cool idea Jamie!

  4. Someone has since pointed out that the iPhone can currently only detect three fingers on the screen at once. (I can't find a reference for this, but i haven't tried very hard.) Damn!

    The same person also pointed out that it could be difficult to hold the device while typing; one might have to lay it on a flat surface. However, I think it might be possible to hold the phone between the thumb and little finger of one hand, leaving one thumb free to press space. I can manage this with my Nokia 6600 with relative ease, but I don't have an iPhone to hold, so I couldn't say whether this is feasible.

  5. Braille bluetooth keyboards can now be paired with iphones.. or use a normal bluetooth keyboard with braille overlays... Only with the iphone 4