Braille for a New Digital Age

New York Times

3rd September 2018

Braille for a New Digital Age

When she was a graduate student in her native Bulgaria about five years ago, Kristina Tsvetanova was once asked to help a blind friend sign up online for a class. Understanding why he could not do so opened her eyes to the lag in technological innovation to benefit blind and visually impaired people.

“The shock that my friend couldn’t perform this simple task stayed with me,” Ms. Tsvetanova said in an interview.

Ms. Tsvetanova, who went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in industrial management and a master’s in engineering, knew that she had stumbled onto an untapped opportunity.

“I realized that there was a gap in the market and a business opportunity in developing technology to provide access to content and services for the blind,” she said. “I am a second-generation entrepreneur, my father taught me to take risks.”

In 2014, Ms. Tsvetanova, who turned 30 last month, moved to Vienna to take advantage of its more sophisticated business culture, where she co-founded the start-up Blitab Technology (a play on the words blind and tablet). She is also the company’s chief executive and has since relocated to San Francisco for proximity to Silicon Valley investors. Later this fall, she plans to introduce Blitab’s debut product, a portable tablet (also called Blitab) designed for blind and visually impaired people.

“Blitab will soon be available for pre-order on our website,” Ms. Tsvetanova said. “We plan to ship by the end of the year.”

Design-wise, Blitab looks like any other tablet-style device. It is slightly thicker than an iPad, but with two separate display fields. On the tablet’s bottom half, a touch screen allows users to select an application or web browse using their voice.

On the top half, the tablet’s glass is perforated into a grid with holes, which allow Blitab’s liquid-based technology to create tactile relief — or “tixels” — that outputs content in the Braille alphabet — the touch-reading system that has been the literacy tool for blind people since 1824. The “smart” liquid alters the surface of the tablet to convert text, maps and graphics into Braille, by creating a rising sensation under the user’s fingertips.

“Blitab can translate any type of content into Braille using our cloud-based software and displays one page of content at a time,” Ms. Tsvetanova said.

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