19 July 2019

blog: Miha Srebrnjak

What is the shape of the plane? How does the Moon look? What does a map or ground plan of your apartment look like?

As a person who can see, you probably know the answers to all these questions, but as a blind person, you probably do not have an accurate idea. Especially for the people who have never seen, some objects, quite well known to us, are completely unknown to them. Why is that so? Objects are mostly seen and not need to be touched, because as a sighted person we don’t feel this need. For blind people, the situation is completely different.

Of course, there are ways that we can show blind people at least about how certain things or objects look like. There are more ways to do it. Let me give you some examples.

1) If the object is accessible, a blind person can touch it to feel its shape and material from which it is made, and can estimate the size of an object at the same time. This is still the best way to get a realistic idea about the object.

2) If the object is not accessible due to certain reasons such as size or itis dangerous to touch it, or there are other reasons, a copy of the object may be presented to the blind person. But the copy already has significant deviations because the material is usually not the same, nor is the size often realistic, and there are quite a few reasons more that you could list. In any case, the advantage is that a blind person gets about some idea of an object.

3) If we do not have any available options listed above, we can help ourselves with tactile books. We already have quite a few physical tactile books, where different types of objects are learned through the story, and thus enable the blind person to envision the object easier. However, in this case, we have similar discrepancies as if we have a copy of the object, and there is an additional problem, because the object can only be felt from one side and we are not enabled 3D viewing.

4) A complete novelty on the market is a digital tactile book, supported by new technology that uses vibration and sound. It's a different solution than a physical tactile book, but it's definitely a great solution, as it can be enriched with sounds, individual audio descriptions of the object, and at the same time we save space because we look at object on a tablet or on a phone.

The Digital tactile book (or FeelBook) is an application designed for the blind and visually impaired people. It is a so-called physical tactile book in a digital form, which can be equipped further with an enormous amount of interactions. Every single object can be felt on the Feelif device using vibrations and tactile grid. When we feel the vibration of single dots, we move our finger left, right, up or down to get familiar with the shape of an object. Where there is no vibration, there is no object as well. To make learning even more fun and educational, it is also possible to add sounds and descriptions to the item. For example, a blind person will hear how the lion is roaring, at the same time is going to feel its shape and learning something interesting from the description. More detailed descriptions can be added to each subject. For example, if we have a car in the picture and touch its wheel, Feelif tells the blind person "front wheel", "rear wheel", or "front door" and so on.

For blind people, we can prepare the contents ourselves and we do not need special knowledge to create a digital tactile book. Within minutes we can learn how to create a digital tactile book with the FeelBook Maker application. There are many videos available to learn how to create your own amazing digital tactile books.

Feelbook can be of great use for blind people. Teachers can prepare and adjust learning materials for school, such as graphic functions in mathematics, in teaching biology they can show how a particular plant or parts of human organs look, or it is a very convenient tool in chemistry for learning the periodic system. There is endlessly more such great feasibilities.

The FeelBook application is installed on all Feelif devices, and the FeelBook Maker for making digital tactile books is preinstalled on the Feelif Pro device. At the Feelif Platform, digital tactile books are already available, but the new ones are added all the time. Our goal is to have the Open Feelif Platform for the blind and visually impaired people with the best content available that all can be shared freely, or purchased and sold. This means that you will make yourself a digital tactile book and sell it or share it with other users of Feelif devices via our Open Feelif Platform.

If we make a brief summary: for the blind is the most realistic act, when they can touch the actual object. If our original object for some reasons is not available to be touched, other ways of feeling the object are welcomed. Each of the described ways has its advantages and weaknesses, so it’s up to you to choose which methods are best suited to learning about the object of interest.

Perhaps you are using some other way of learning about things and objects? I would really be glad if you could share it with me! Write to me at miha@feelif.com.