Digital Craft: Braille

Project Status: Complete

As my final project for my Digital Craft course, taught by Michael Nitsche, I created a system that would enable non-sighted users to have a better experience with tactile graphics.

The assignment was to spend time seeking out a craftsperson of a specific trade, shadow that person, and then create a digital intervention for that craft. I selected the AMAC Braille production facility at Georgia Tech.

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Preliminary Research

After taking the time to explore the potential projects, I came across the Braille production facility at Georgia Tech. Part of the Accessibility Solutions and Research Center (AMAC), the Braille Services department provides customized services to post- secondary students and the Library of Congress, as a result of a recent contract. I first contacted Guy Toles, the production manager of the group, who then put me in touch with a person from the production side and a person from the transcription side.

Due to the fact that there are only 10 people in the AMAC office, 75% of the work is done by partnering with prison programs, Toles told me on my first visit. One of the main partner groups is called Providing Real Opportunities for Income through Technology (PROFITT), which offers courses for various skills. One of the skill tracks is to become a small business, real world braille producer. In this program, prison workers go through all the Braille certifications and gain real world experience. The prison workers do a lot of the transcription and tactile graphic work.

The production manager, Guy Toles, is a University of Georgia graduate, where the AMAC group was originally founded. Toles operates the business side of the venture, working with the group’s business partners and the group itself in order to develop the best product. Initially, the group worked on an order only basis – when a post-secondary student needed a textbook, they would produce it. More recently, the group sent a bid for a contract with the Library of Congress to mass-produce Braille novels. The group won a one-year contract and are now on a five- year contract. Toles discussed how it was a very large learning process for them – they had to transition from small-scale production to high production and binding. They had to purchase new production equipment and overhaul their workflow (Fig. 2).

After meeting Toles, he set up a meeting for me with Randy Davis and Nate Liao, a person from the transcription side and a person from the production side, respectively. Through meeting with them, I got a much deeper understanding of both sides of the Braille practice.After learning about the various aspects of Braille transcription and production, I decided to focus on the tactile graphics and see what could be done to improve that experience. A comment from Davis really stuck with me. He said, “it’s easy to listen to a novel, but hard to listen to a textbook.” Graphics are a key component of textbooks. How could I use audio feedback to make the experience richer?Implementation

In order to implement this project, I used cardstock to create the tactile graphics, an Arduino Uno with a RFID shield, RFID tags, and my laptop. Since this is a proof of concept, I did not add a wave shield to the Arduino. Instead, I played the files directly from my computer, which gives it a more robust audio quality anyway.


In order to create the graphic, I consulted guidelines for creating tactile graphics. Mine is certainly not up to par for actual use for instruction, but it is certainly satisfactory for a proof of concept. I used cardstock, as it’s very sturdy paper to create the multi-layer experience

Then, I had to think about where to put the RFID tags. I didn’t want them to get in the way of reading the graphic, so I taped them behind the graphic itself in strategic locations. The signal for the proximity reader was not affected by being behind the graphic so it was a perfect solution.

One challenge was figuring out how to make the RFID shield and Arduino not be in the way. I knew I wanted to make it wearable, but in what way? I decided that a glove would make the most sense and not be overly intrusive.

When writing the code and designing this project, I drew a lot of inspiration from the Adafruit Babelfish project. Becky Stern created a toy that would teach a foreign language by using RFID cards as flashcards. In that project, they used a wave shield for sound, but I decided not to do that just because I wanted the best audio quality. Later iterations could have that. I used Stern’s documentation to learn how to individually identify the serial numbers for the RFID tags.

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View ACM paper