Updated: Apr 25
Invented in 1829, braille is a system of raised dots representing letters that are read by touch. It can enable people with blindness to independently identify objects and spaces in their workplaces, homes and schools. Braille labels on objects can lead to an increase in daily efficiency for the more than 43 million people with blindness and 295 million more with moderate to severe visual impairment. For children, braille labels on their toys and objects in the home and at school could catalyze learning by helping them to associate written words with physical objects. For an adult, identifying objects such as file folders, boxes, and medications is a functional skill essential in the workplace. Yet, despite many benefits of braille labels, label makers available on the market are costly to manufacture, rely on proprietary tape, or are difficult to use.
The Braille-It team, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology including Hilary Johnson, Vadim Kuklov, and Professor Alex Slocum, sought to enable people with blindness to live more independently.
They worked to develop a label maker that would allow people to affordably and easily make their own braille labels within their homes, schools, workplaces and communities.
"We designed an affordable, precise, multi-lingual, personal braille label maker as a tool for people with blindness,” Johnson explained. “Our work at MIT was inspired by work on braille labelers at a workshop in India run by a man with blindness named Govindraj. He emphasized to me that there are sighted labels everywhere, but not braille labels. We wanted to design a tool to empower people with blindness to make their own labels.
The answer they came up with is Braille-It: an affordable, personal, braille label maker that allows users to quickly label items with braille. Braille-It uses flexural linkages and elastically averaged connections to enable users to press on keys that emboss braille characters onto Scotch Magic™ tape labels that can be applied to objects, walls and other surfaces.
By providing a simple and convenient way to write braille on tape, this device can help people label their surroundings and access information more easily, thereby providing the people with blindness and visual impairment with opportunities and independence in their day-to-day lives. A team of MIT undergraduate students in MIT 2.75 Medical Device Design class, Sophia DiSabato, Christina Patterson, and Cindy Jie, are currently working to implement the design with the hopes of getting the devices in the hands of users worldwide.
It is a unique solution that addresses an important need worldwide. The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office agrees, granting the team two patents protecting the device, U.S. Patent Nos. 11,373,549 and 11,580,880.
The patents were granted with the help of Microsoft’s Make What’s Next Program, which aims to simplify the patent process and provide support and mentorship to women who are working on technology advances that are making real differences in the world. The team hopes that Braille-It will improve the lives of millions of braille users around the world by giving them more autonomy and access to information.
On World IP Day, ADAPT (Advancing Diversity Across Patent Teams) celebrates the hard work of inventors like Hilary, Vadim and Alex and the MIT team, who are shaping the world through their imagination, ingenuity and hard work. The invention is a key example of how innovation and technology can improve the lives of people who rely on braille for literacy and communication. They hope that their story will inspire other young innovators and entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams and use their creativity and ingenuity to solve real-world problems.
Make What’s Next is one of many programs that are available as part ADAPT’s platform, which provides a database of DEI programs and templates for corporate and law firm teams to jump start their DEI journey. If you are interested in joining, contact us today!