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Inspiring Technology for People with Sensory Disabilities

Headphones are constantly changing the way we hear things. Google Glass is going to change the way we see things. All of these advances are…

Headphones are constantly changing the way we hear things. Google Glass is going to change the way we see things. All of these advances are revolutionizing how people experience their environment, but what about those who are deaf or blind? Well, thanks to some brilliant young minds and amazing technology, people with sensory disabilities are able to share similar experiences.

Jonah Kohn, 14 years old, developed a device to help those who are hard of hearing through tactile sound technology-- bringing the sensation of sound transmitted directly to the body by contact, rather than by sound waves through the ears.  Kohn labeled his product the Good Vibrations Project (don’t worry, testers were not exposed to Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch), a device that transmits multiple frequencies and vibrations to the subjects’ fingers. The result was a music experience they had literally never felt before. Each person, having not been able to enjoy music for years, now had each note vibrate through their body, allowing them to feel and truly experience the music. Some were able to distinguish specific instruments and even understand lyrics. Not surprisingly, Kohn was invited to the White House Science Fair to showcase his project and even won the Google Science Fair last year.

Enjoying musical art is one thing, but what about the blind experience of visual art, like paintings? Well, some students from Harvard think 3D printing is the solution to the problem. The Midas Touch project is still in development, but the idea is to scan two-dimensional images and render an additional layer with the printer. By applying the new layer to the print, the result is essentially a 2.5-dimensional image that people who are blind are able to feel.

If the 3D printing method doesn’t work out, perhaps the guys from Harvard could use the technology featured in the upcoming “Braille Smartphone”. Rather than use the speech function on standard smartphones, this one is specifically designed to allow people who are blind to text, make phone calls, and even scan written content that the phone converts to braille. The screen has pins below its surface that rise and fall to create indentations, resulting in a textured surface. The phone is set to release later this year.

It is truly inspiring to see young innovators looking to serve the needs of a niche minority market that is too often neglected. These products may not feature billion dollar business models, but they are changing the way people with sensory disabilities are able to experience the world and improve their quality of life.  This is what technology is all about: making difficult tasks doable.

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