Re-imagining braille with technology today?

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When we sat down with Andrew Chepatis, it was clear we were talking about an idea that could help millions of people, but the path ahead was and will continue to be, a journey of small, incremental steps.

 

So what are ELIA FRAMES ?

It is pegged as the world’s most intuitive tactile reading system offering an easy-to-learn alternative (not a replacement) to Braille. It utilises modern, tactile printing technology, to make more complex shapes than Braille, which making it more identifiable to the touch. Each character has an outer frame (circle, square, house) and inner element that references the Roman alphabet.

Firstly, is there a need for a Braille alternative?

  • For those that have learnt Braille, it has been invaluable. According to US Census Bureau data, individuals with visual impairment have an estimated employment rate of 43%, but if they can use Braille, that rate rises to 85%

  • Braille is very difficult to learn for two key reasons: i) It is not scalable in the same way a regular font is, so for the less tactile sensitive, like the elderly, it cannot be increased in size ii) Braille is an entirely different character system from the Roman alphabet, and therefore doesn’t build on existing knowledge

  • The National Federation of the Blind estimates that fewer than 10% of blind people can read braille

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A holistic approach to re-launching ELIA FRAMES®

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Align & Enquire

We spoke with the employees of Elia Life Technologies, to gain their perspective on what the ELIA Frames story was and what the required vision, values and beliefs were to bring it to life. We engaged Industrial Designers; Grant Managers; Engineers (Electrical, Systems and Mechanical); Research & Operations, Social Media & Project Managers, Community Consultants and Usability Specialists.

After collecting and synthesising data from interviews and focus groups, observing leaders in action, reviewing current brand assets and considering key systems and processes, we determined that the team needed clearer brand storytelling assets and better systems to support three main priorities:

i) The development of an education program for teachers and students
ii) The development of a specialised HP Inkjet printer that would allow for tactile printing in the home and
iii) Grant writing and funding for both.

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Co-Design

Working in conjunction with Andrew Chepatis, we developed creative stimulus and concepts, presenting them via workshops with key stakeholders. The end result was what became known as the ELIA Idea: (E)ducation, (L)iteracy, and (I)ndependence for (A)ll.

This served as a mission statement for the project, while also defining the values of ‘Education’ and ‘Inclusion’, for all ELIA Life Technology employees and contractors involved. Stakeholders determined that ‘Education’ could be brought to life by sharing knowledge with each other early and often, and ‘Inclusion’ by engaging, and having a representative from, every part of the business and seeking external opinions and expertise regularly.

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Deliver

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We developed a series of assets to empower ELIA Life Technologies team to tell their story and more effectively educate and fundraise.

Projects ranged from the initial branding of ELIA, including: all typography assets, UI graphics (further developed by order design) and the brand story; autonomous CMS website that allowed staff to manage ongoing content; extensive FAQs guide; development of Minimal Viable Products such as tactile stickers for labelling, tactile keyboard covers and tactile bookmarks; Education manuals for both teachers and students and a series of data visualisation assets to aid the ELIA PR story.

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Embed & Sustain

We applied a ‘build & optimise’ working rhythm, which involved a significant proportion of time spent upfront, to accommodate the engagement, alignment, understanding and collaboration required to move effectively from current state to desired state. This enabled us to deliver autonomous solutions, which only required light touch follow-ups to help with embedding, training and ultimately ensuring sustainability.

10 day sprints_Delivered with a ‘Build & Optimise’ working rhythm.

10 day sprints_Delivered with a ‘Build & Optimise’ working rhythm.

Results_

ELIA has generated a strong list of backers; raising USD$450,000 in seed investments and USD$2.7 million in grants from the National Institute on Ageing, the National Eye Institute, the National Institute for Standards and Technology, and NYSTAR. It has also continued its relationship with Hewlett-Packard, to develop the desktop inkjet printer that will allow users to instantly produce tactile fonts and graphics.

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