About 40 million people worldwide are blind, yet only one in 10 learn to read and write Braille. Writing Braille typically requires a specialize keyboard that uses “chording.” This means that users press two or more keys at the same time, in much the same way that stenography machines work. It’s a complex process and difficult to learn.
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are studying the use of passive haptic learning (PHL) to help subjects learn to use a Braille keyboard. “Haptics” refers to tactile feedback, especially when it is created. If you have your smartphone set to vibrate every time you enter a letter in a text message, that is haptic feedback.
The Georgia Tech researchers have been exploring whether or not gloves with small vibrating motors at the knuckles have an impact on learning the new skill of using a Braille keyboard. One experiment tested “passive” learning, in which the subjects were occupied doing another task (playing a game) for 30 minutes while the gloves vibrated in the sequences required to produce certain letters. After each vibration, the subjects got an audible cue as to what letter was produced by that sequence. A control group only heard the audible cues, but their gloves did not vibrate.
The results showed that the PHL gloves resulted in a significant gain in learning the new skill. Surprisingly, the exercise also helped them learn to read Braille. It could be gloves like these could help users learn a wide range of skills.