According to Brooklyn-based ELIA Life Technology, less than one percent of visually-impaired people can read braille. It's notoriously difficult to master, with users reportedly taking up to 10 months to learn the alphabet. The company's new ELIA Frames system, however, can apparently be learned in just three hours.
Working with his mother, CEO Andrew Chepaitis was inspired to create the system when his grandmother started losing her sight, and found braille too hard to learn.
ELIA Frames is actually a font consisting of raised characters that can be felt by the fingertips, each character representing an individual letter (or number) from the widely-used Roman alphabet. Surrounding every character is an outer "frame," so users can easily tell where one character ends and the next begins.
Within those frames are specific elements unique to each letter, that are based upon the way that letter looks. This makes sense, as the majority of blind people were born sighted, so will likely be familiar with the appearance of letters. Additionally, this factor allows fully- and partially-sighted people to visually read the font with little training, as its characters are based on the letters that they already know.
As an added bonus, the font works in any size. By contrast, braille can only be printed in one standard size, as the size of the spaces between the dots holds meaning.
Chepaitis and his collaborators have so far been using a customized printer to create ELIA Frames documents. They hope to develop a commercial version of the printing technology, however, so that people everywhere can create them.
To that end, they've recently turned to Kickstarter to raise development funds. In the current campaign, a pledge of US$25 will get you an ELIA Frames silicone keyboard overlay, suitable for use with Apple computers. Learning kits are available for higher amounts.
The system is demonstrated in the following video.
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