We have developed a new tactile font that is an alternative to braille. It is called ELIA Frames. Our team employed the best practices from industrial design and industrial psychology (the scientific study of tasks) to design the optimal tactile font. It is simply the standard alphabet, highly customized for a specific use case - reading with one's fingers.
In the U.S., 97% of people who have a severe visual impairment or are blind cannot read braille (only 59,000 out of 2.4 million). 99% of them lost their vision after having learned to read visually. Braille does not build on their existing knowledge. Furthermore, braille is only available in one font size. And this size is often inaccessible for newly blind readers, because people lose their tactile acuity as they age, and braille it is quite small. Furthermore, new readers have difficulty discerning where one letter begins and another ends, because the space between the dots has meaning (e.g. the letter F and the letter M are nearly identical, except for the dot spacing).
Braille requires that people adapt to the technological requirements and limitations of 1824 (when it was designed). It was designed around what was possible then - taking a pointed object like a nail and pushing it into a piece of paper. At the time, 95% of all work was done manually or with animal labor. The sighted were using quill pens to write. Given the tools available, it was an amazing innovation, but braille's design did not employ human centered design. Font choices were extremely limited. And few sighted people had access to or used scalable fonts.
We employed human centered design to develop a scaleable font that can be learned and shared in less than an hour, by both the blind and the sighted. It is the standard alphabet, so there is little learning related to the design. (Though the process of reading by touch required learning time.) ELIA Frames leverages the capacity of modern printing and display technology so that a reader can choose to use fonts at multiple font sizes. For example, we have a partnership with HP to use their ink jet printing technology in a new printer we have also developed. The font and the printer allow for people of differing physical abilities to enjoy literacy. They are designed for humans, not the 200 year-old manual processes that Louis Braille had at his disposal.
The result of our work is the standard alphabet highly customized for touch reading. It is as the alphabet needs to be presented for easy learning and reading. It will change the live of millions of people, both here and abroad.
The ELIA Frames™ Font is the world's most intuitive tactile font. It is designed to be understood by touch or sight by those who are previously sighted, and by the sighted.
In April and May of 2018, our team conducted a Kickstarter to launch the ELIA Frames Font. The Kickstarter coincided with a "Design for the Senses" exhibit at the Smithsonian's Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, where the font was featured as one of the exhibits. Both were successful in terms of the number of people who were engaged. We were thrilled with the outcomes and as such, thought we would apply for the Core77 competition.
The ELIA Frames font leverages modern tactile printing technology and design principles to optimize each letter's design, creating easily identifiable characters. Each letter features an outer frame (a circle or a square) and interior characteristic. The combination of the two elements suggest the main features of each standard alphabet letter.
Most people are unaware that less than 3% of people who are blind or have a severe visual impairment can read braille. The majority of people in this community are previously sighted. ELIA Frames was designed as an easier to learn and share alternative to braille, for those who cannot learn braille.
The intent of our team's work is to enable people who have lost their vision, or are losing their vision to maintain or regain their literacy. For it is through literacy that people achieve rewarding educations and employment. It is the basis for both opportunity and independence. And literacy brings great joy, in and of itself.
All of our products in development, both hardware and software are designed for beneficial outcomes. Our hope is that if a product makes dramatically positive changes in a persons life, that our customers will in turn help us to better understand their needs, that they will build a community to share those benefits, and that through a community with them, the results will be greater than if the products were just ours.
Our design intent has been to take a fresh look at what products people who have a visual impaired need, as an ecosystem of solutions, and to apply the best practices of human centered design to the development of those products. As such, our font accounts for people's differing tactile acuities (sense of touch). It leverages their current knowledge of the standard alphabet. Furthermore, it's layout accounts for the specific requirements of the task of touch reading. Our hardware, especially our printer and keyboard also do this - building on people's understanding of graphical information (for the printer) and existing layouts and fonts (for the keyboard).
Our approach has paired best practices from industrial design, and the research methods and analysis of industrial psychology (the scientific study of work). Through controlled experiments we have iteratively tested hundreds of designs (we have additional designs ready for testing . The current letter and number designs are the result of our analysis of over 175,000 responses from research study participants. We provided thousands of hours of training to the participants. (Some of our research findings and innovations may even help braille readers read braille faster!) . We engaged some of the world's leading experts in related research fields (e.g. Joseph Stevens, Ph.D., William O'Connell, O.D., Aries Arditi, Ph.D., Andrea Li, Ph.D., William Sieple, Ph.D.)
Our research shows that braille's design and standard presentation are difficult or impossible to learn and/or use, for most people who are previously sighted.Often, the new learners are faulted for a lack of motivation to learn braille. But the errors that people who are trying to learn it are the fault of its design, which requires too much of the reader.For example, in the middle of words, it can be extremely difficult to identify where one letter ends and another begins. This is an unnecessary challenge that is due to braille's origins in 1824.
Given that modern technology supports the presentation of almost any font design, and the printing of multiple font sizes, braille's limitations, which are tied to the technology of 1824, are unnecessary impediments to millions of people's literacy, independence, education, employment and happiness.
At its core, the ELIA Frames font is simply the optimal font design of the standard alphabet - for touch reading. The technology has been available to allow for this for over a decade. Individuals can adopt it individually, without institutional support. It can be used for labeling (for daily independence), on keyboards (for greater productivity), and in print (for extended text reading or for notes). Eventually, we will also have a tactile tablet, that will enable people to download any content that they wish to read, at the font size they desire. Such a tablet, as with all our hardware, will also support braille reading, if a reader choose to use braille. We should also note that braille or the ELIA Frames font, combined with assistive apps and software (e.g. text to speech) are tools in the users' toolboxes - together, they provide the user with much more ability than the tools do separately.
We have partnered with leading organizations for the blind, including our research partners Lighthouse Guild, Columbia Teachers College and the SUNY College of Optometry. We will continue to build our network and community and through partnerships with organizations and with consumer organizations.