October 15, 2008 "SENS", from Takumi Yoshida, is a mobile phone design catering for those with visual impairment including complete blindness. The phone assists visually impaired users through a special keypad design, real-time audio feedback and touch sensing technology.

Yoshida developed "SENS" (written [SÉNS]) following a series of user research, interviews, observations and testing with a group of students from RNIB college in the UK. For ease of use, all of the keys on the keypad are different to each other to touch, whilst keeping visual uniformity in order to reduce unnecessary finger movements to locate where the finger is. This decision was the result of feedback from the user group revealing that the “blind man’s dimple” on the number five key on regular phones is of little or no use.

To improve interaction between the user and the phone, [SÉNS] combines touch sensors and regular mechanical keys to provide real-time audio feedback. When the user touches a key, the phone tells them what key has been touched without actually registering it as an input. The user may hover across the keys to gain feedback on which key they are touching. Once the user is sure their finger is on the correct key, they can then press it just like on any other standard handset; a click sound is then fed back to confirm the input. In order to eliminate the need for other people in public to also hear the audio feedback from the phone, [SÉNS] has an integrated Blutooth headset which ensures it can’t get misplaced.

Incorporating touch sensing and mechanical input on a single key provides the additional benefit of software flexibility. By double tapping a key like double clicking on a mouse, the key toggles the input mode and corresponding audio feedback is given. For example, if the number two key is continuously tapped at a certain speed, the input mode will be toggled and audio feedback will be given such as: “2, a, b, c, 2, a, b, c …” Different menu items like contact lists, text messages and Internet can also be respectively assigned to the dial keys and may be accessed through the same toggling method.

Although severity varies, most visually impaired people have some degree of sight and can sense light. By providing large color illumination on the side, the [SÉNS] phone also exploits the most basic level of visual capability to offer better usability for those with some degree of sight. Different color illumination can indicate some basic phone status such as low battery indication, incoming calls and messages.

Yoshida’s [SÉNS] phone took out third prize at the Design & Technology Enterprise Award 2008 awarded by Loughborough University Enterprise Office.

Emily Clark

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