This year's A Better World by Design conference saw the presentation of several new products that promise to positively impact the world, and one of our favorites was Ted Moallem's brilliant Braille-It Labeler - a pocket-sized labeling device that produces braille dots embossed onto vinyl self-adhesive labeling tape. Labels made by the gadget can be used for easy, tactile identification of food, medicine, media, or appliances on a daily basis.
Blind people have been long overlooked when it comes to social advancement and technological innovation, and Moallem’s labeler offers a simple, affordable solution that will have its largest impact in the developing world, where an estimated 90 percent of blind people worldwide reside. A former MIT graduate student, Moallem was originally inspired by the IDEAS Competition. He saw that, as a minority group, the blind have been long overlooked by the commercial sector leading to stagnation in the development of low-cost technology for their needs. Several technological advancements have been made but they cater to those in the first world who can afford the expensive, sleek products or electronics. Government subsidies and institutional purchases help maintain high prices making it highly unlikely these products will ever reach the majority of people who could use them. Rates of illiteracy, unemployment and poverty remain exorbitant in the blind community perpetuating the vicious cycle of social exclusion and neglect.
As an alternative, Moallem devised a tool that can be both used and produced by the blind. The design draws inspiration from Louis Braille’s original “slate and stylus” and involves a simple six-button system that crosses language barriers. However, unlike Braille’s design, characters are not formed backwards and hands are saved the tiring effort of punching one dot at a time. Moallem also plans to make construction instructions available as an open-source document on the web.
To test out his idea, Moallem held the first Blind-Lead Workshop in 2010 at the WORTH Trust training facility in Katpadi, India. Five blind trainees and a sighted supervisor came from the surrounding Tamil Nadu region and the experiment proved a success. WORTH has now added a permanent Blind-Lead Workshop to its facilities where skill-training and full-time employment are offered to blind individuals.
Invention in hand, Moallem is now determined to establish workshops worldwide where the product can be produced on a local scale by and for the blind. He is determined for it to remain affordable (about $5 per device in the developing world) and in the public domain. While his prototype is constructed of aluminum, musical wire, grommets, an IDC connector and vinyl tape, its design makes it adaptable to almost any local setting. For instance, he discussed using recycled steel, paper clips or the body of old cassette tapes for production in Africa. In the near future, he hopes to take the workshop to Senegal, Liberia and Lebanon. As Moallem stated, “Once empowered with the skills of mechanical design and construction, blind visionaries can lead the development of tactile and Braille tools, rightfully reclaiming the legacy of Louis Braille.”
Images © Amanda Silvana Coen and courtesy of Ted Moallem