SYDNEY, July 24 (Xinhua) -- Mobile smart phones for the blind and visually impaired have -- until now -- relied almost solely on clunky voice-to-text technology, but with the release, Thursday, of the world's first braille mobile phone, all that may be about to change.
With the evolution of touch screen technology, the blind have been left out in the cold with the extraordinary technical evolution of mobile devices.
According to Brad Scoble, Director of OwnFone Australia, that door has now been opened with the "world's first commercially available braille phone."
"Touchscreen technology is problematic ... " Scoble said.
"OwnFone, in consultation with the blind and low vision community, developed a simple mobile phone without a touchscreen and one that users can personalize with braille buttons.
It's not the first time mobile designers have reached out to the visually impaired.
While the phone supports calls, texts, GPS navigation, object recognition, and some 100,000 audio books, Tom Sunderland, the inventor of OwnFone, says that personalization is the future of vision-impaired technology.
"The braille buttons are produced using 3D printing and customized for every customer, which makes OwnFone's braille phone a world-first."
Sunderland, based in UK said, "OwnFone is the first in the world to sell a braille phone which is personalized for every user. "
According to Sunderland, the cost of developing a braille phone versus the market size has previously been a barrier to entry.
"3D printing provides a fast and affordable way to overcome this barrier," he said.
Vision Australia estimates there are currently 357,000 people in Australia who are blind or have low vision. Providing services that cater to this disproportionately large segment has been a priority of successive governments.
The controversial National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) implemented last year (providing support for the significantly disabled) reflects the commitment here to ensuring services for those disadvantaged by a disability are a policy priority.
The release of the phone will allow users to design their personalized braille phone on the brand's website.
According to the site, applicants add three contact names, which are then automatically converted into braille. These names are then printed on the front of the phone in braille.
Scoble said, "OwnFone meets the need for a basic mobile phone to keep in touch. Smartphones are often too complicated, and in the case of people who are blind, not user-friendly."
When Australian Government released the Website Accessibility National Transition Strategy in 2010, it noted that "new technology has huge potential to make life better for people with disability, but we need to make sure that it is as easy to use as possible for all members of our community."
And while Digital Access has significantly contributed to the creation of WCAG 2.0. (the latest version of the global best practice Web Accessibility Guidelines), the capacity to create a laptop that loads braille content is some way off yet.
"OwnFone's braille phone is very easy to design and easy to use. There is simple one button dialing, and the braille buttons are pre-programmed to call people of the user's choice, such as family, friends or carers.
Scoble said, "the braille phone complements our existing OwnFone for kids and seniors. The only difference is in the design of the phone. Kids and seniors have the option of words or images as buttons, whereas people who are blind have braille."
Users can only make and receive phone calls, and Triple Zero ( 000) is always included as an option, in case of emergency.