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Communications of the ACM

India Region Special Section: Big Trends

Computing and Assistive Technology Solutions for the Visually Impaired

DotBook 40Q with QWERTY keyboard and Braille keyboard

Credit: IIT Dehli

The idea of "reinventing the wheel" is very often looked down upon in research. But many devices and solutions in the assistive technology (AT) space have been available for nearly half a century and still have not reached most users in low-income countries. Two such examples are refreshable Braille displays, which make digital data accessible in Braille through touch rather than audio, and tactile diagrams, which are critical to helping visually impaired people to pursue subjects, such as science, where diagrams are crucial to understanding the concepts. While accessibility normally refers only to the modality for making information accessible, in the Indian context, it is tightly tied to affordability.

No market exists in the AT space in low-income countries, though the need is very high, because the user's ability to pay is either low or non-existent. Thus, there has never been an incentive for technology hubs—which are traditionally located in wealthier countries—to pursue alternative designs or innovate to develop affordable solutions. At the same time, a major advantage with new devices and solutions based on electronics and software is that they scale very well—that is, higher volumes translate to lower costs. This feature, therefore, gives us hope that affordable AT solutions will soon reach users in lower-income countries.


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