Visually-impaired people, often completely locked out from the use of touchscreen devices, can now benefit from BlindPAD, created by an EU-funded consortium, which allows them to exploit and enhance their remaining senses.

An image showing young blind children and adults using digital devices through touch

Making graphics accessible to visually-impaired people

Until today, graphics have been largely inaccessible to blind people who need to use the sense of touch in order to understand information - a sense largely neglected by technologies. By the fabrication of a tactile tablet, the social inclusion of visually-impaired people could be dramatically improved.

BlindPAD, created by an EU-funded consortium, is a system comprising a new tactile tablet, software translating images into tactile representations and a series of exercises that together make digital graphical information accessible to blind and visually-impaired persons.

What does BlindPAD do?

According to Dr Luca Brayda, researcher at the Robotics, Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department of the Italian Institute of Technology, BlindPAD has a tactile display of 12 cm x 15 cm, consisting of 192 electromagnetic, independent taxels. Each taxel is changing state (up/down) rapidly, allowing static and moving patterns to be displayed. Together, the taxels can form arbitrary simple sketches: graphs, symbols, emoticons, conventional signs. Thus conventional visual contents can be learnt through both vision and touch.

BlindPAD can train visual-spatial working memory, complex mental operations and mathematical concepts and help picture maps of unknown rooms, allowing people to find their own position in a real environment. This is especially important for mobility, since tactile maps are rarely available in public places. 

With BlindPAD spatial knowledge has been made accessible for visually-impaired people. Moreover, it has contributed to the fields of material engineering and experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience, while advancing the field of computer-human interaction and making computer-assisted rehabilitation more autonomous.

When can BlindPAD be seen on the market?

The BlindPAD system comprises a hardware tactile device, software running on most PCs and tablets, and a series of exercises that stimulate abilities linked to spatial working memory, spatial processing, logics and mathematical reasoning.

The technology of the BlindPAD system can be easily exploited by transferring it to a start-up and a product could be launched on the market within less than two years.

Project Details:

Project Number : 611621
Small or medium scale focused research project (STREP)
Call (part) identifier: FP7-ICT-2013-10
Topic: ICT-2013.5.3 “ICT for smart and personalised inclusion”
EC contribution:  2,000,000 €
Coordinator: Luca Brayda, IIT
Duration in months: 41 (January 1st 2014 – May 31st 2017)
Programme: FP7-ICT

Project website