Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How BrailleTouch Works

21st-Century Braille
Mario Romero, one of BrailleTouch’s co-inventors, demonstrates the app on a tablet.
Mario Romero, one of BrailleTouch’s co-inventors, demonstrates the app on a tablet.
Courtesy Georgia Tech

Unlike a typical smartphone keyboard, you don't need sight in order to use BrailleTouch. All you need is touch.

To understand how the app works, it helps to have a basic understanding of Braille. You can catch up by reading How Braille Works. In short, Braille is a basic system made up of a 3 by 2 matrix, or grid. On printed paper, you use your fingers to read Braille by feeling raised dots placed on the grid. Each combination of dots in that grid coincides with a letter in the alphabet or punctuation.

Translating the Braille system to a smartphone screen meant tweaking things a bit. The BrailleTouch keyboard has the bare essentials, featuring just six on-screen buttons placed three to each side of the phone's screen.

In order to compose a message, you press various combinations of these buttons. Each combination is called a chord, which correlates to one of 63 different characters, including the entire alphabet as well as special characters such as commas and exclamation points. With the correct swiping gesture, you'll insert a space or delete an incorrect entry. You'll know when you make a mistake because BrailleTouch offers voice, click or vibration feedback.

To use the system, you actually face the phone away from your body. You grasp the phone by placing your middle three fingers on each side of the app's keyboard. Touch the button or buttons that correspond to the letter you want, and the software inputs the character into your text or e-mail. Unlike a traditional QWERTY keyboard, your fingers remain in the same position during typing so you're never left hunting in vain for correct finger placement.

The app's developers are quick to point out that typing Braille takes very little time to learn, and their initial studies show that it doesn't take long for users to master the system. Reading Braille, however, is much more difficult and isn't possible on a smartphone.

After a bit of practice, studies have shown that BrailleTouch users can easily average around 23 words per minute with accuracy greater than 90 percent. In short, it's a fairly speedy, reliable way to compose text-based messages no matter where you might be, so long as you have your smartphone handy. On the next page, find out exactly how the app makes texting faster and easier for just about everyone.