Game-changing innovations at TechShare Africa

Africa Forum’s technology showcase has all the latest advances for people who are blind

A Braille Box, SMART Brailler, SmartCane  and Envoy Elite are shown on a yellow background, surrounding the words "2015 TechShare Africa Innovations."

The TechShare Africa Exhibition features innovative assistive devices for people who are blind or visually impaired.

October 7, 2015

From ultrasonic white canes to SMART Braillers, the exhibition hall at the 6th Africa Forum is packed with innovative assistive technology solutions for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Since it opened on Monday, the TechShare Africa Exhibition has been abuzz with participants eager to ask questions and try out new products.

Africa Forum is the continent’s largest-ever gathering of blindness educators, advocates and policymakers – with more than 400 participants from 56 countries convening in Kampala, Uganda. In all, there are 20 vendors displaying their wares. Here are four highlights:

1. SmartCane – Saksham

The problem with white canes is they don’t detect objects above ground-level – leaving people who are blind or visually impaired vulnerable to collisions with tree branches or other obstacles closer to eye-level, said Piyush Chanana, lead engineer at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, which developed the SmartCane.

The SmartCane is a mobility aid that slides over a traditional white cane and uses ultrasonic sensors to detect the location of nearby objects. It translates that information to the user through vibrations – the stronger the vibration, the closer the object.

Chanana said Supriya Das, a 2015 graduate of Perkins School for the Blind’s Educational Leadership Program, trained users during the SmartCane’s product development phase. The device is now being distributed by Saksham, an India-based nonprofit.

2. Envoy Elite – MegaVoice

The Envoy Elite by Israel-based MegaVoice is a solar-powered audio player perfect for use in the developing world, said spokesman Darrel Templeton.

“It’s made for Third World applications, where you can’t depend on electricity and you’re not necessarily going to be able to buy batteries,” he said.

Though MegaVoice primarily works with religious ministries, Templeton said the devices are also now being used at a school for the blind in Kenya. Teachers record their lessons on the Envoy Elite and students are able to take them home for repeated listening.

“The student can go at his own pace and play it over and over again,” said Templeton.

3. Braille Box – Index Braille

The Braille Box offers users quick and easy professional-quality braille printing.

In a matter of seconds, the Braille Box can produce a freshly printed braille document ready for folding and stapling into a convenient booklet.

The product is made by Index Braille. Dominic Kiamba, the company’s East Africa distributor, said the Braille Box is perfect for libraries or schools. Other braille printers still rely on fan-fold paper, Kiamba said, which was once widely used back in the days of dot matrix printers but is now difficult for consumers to purchase.

“The Braille Box uses single-sheet paper, which is readily available on the market,” he said.

4. SMART Brailler – Perkins Solutions

With its SMART Brailler®Perkins Solutions has taken its classic, tried-and-true braille writing machine and turbocharged it with interactive audio and visual features.

John Price, Perkins Solutions’ international manager of business development, loves showing people all the SMART Brailler has to offer.

“It’s very exciting – not everyone has seen it here in Africa,” he said between product demonstrations on Tuesday. “There’s been a lot of interest. I was able to sit with people and show them the different features – how they can look at a video screen that displays simulated braille as well as edit, save and transfer electronic text documents via USB, change  voices and languages, and log on as different users to access their files.”