From vibrating shoes to tactile tunes

Three breakthroughs in blindness from around the globe

Two hands on braille music
November 17, 2014

No country has a monopoly on innovation. All over the world, innovators are developing smarter, simpler and cheaper ways for people who are blind to navigate, learn and share their talents. Here are three exciting developments…


India: Shoes that take you where you want to go.India: Shoes that take you where you want to go

Two men had a vision. They wanted to use their love of design and engineering to create a product that would be innovative, useful and affordable. What they came up with is a shoe that connects wirelessly to your smartphone and then translates the directions into vibrations in the sole.The result is Lechal, which means “take me along” in Hindi.

The shoes work this way: the user downloads the Lechal app (which comes with the shoe purchase) onto their smartphone and then connects the shoes wirelessly to that app. Once the user inputs their destination onto their phone, the module in the heel of the shoe picks up the directions, and then the left foot vibrates for the wearer to go left, and the right heel vibrates to go right. For those who would rather wear their own shoes, there is an insole option.

Krispian Lawrence and Anirudh Sharma went to college in the United States, but started their company, Ducere Technologies, in India. In fact, their tagline says “Innovated in India” to reflect their belief and commitment in their homeland. Their footwear was specifically created to work for people who are visually impaired, with a portion of each sale going to fund a pair of shoes for someone less able to afford them.

Anyone interested in the Lechal shoes can preorder them at Lechal.com.


Pakistan: Tactile learning tools enhance education

They say necessity is the mother of invention, but in this case, it’s the father doing the inventing. Shahzad Zaidi’s son Ali Gazi lost his sight as a result of Stevens-Johnson syndrome. Since then, Zaidi has been relentless in finding ways for his son to continue learning. Understanding that his son and other children who are blind need to “see through their hands,” he figured out how to emboss lines on transparency film, to teach the concept of shapes. He also produced books that teach letters, books that teach science concepts like the solar system, coloring books and games such as tic-tac-toe.

And because Zaidi lives in Pakistan, he figured out how to produce these items in bulk and at low cost. Special education materials are not a priority for cash-strapped Pakistani schools, and most children who are blind have limited access to appropriate learning materials.

Zaidi’s website shows the many items he is working on to help his son learn. He also has a Facebook page.  You can read an article about his work in the Express Herald Tribune.


South Korea: A new way for musicians who are blind to read music

All music can be translated into braille. But because of the way braille musical scores are written, blind musicians must often learn to play the notes one hand at a time and then mentally assemble the component parts before performing the piece.

While South Korean musician Yeaji Kim was able to read braille music, she found it challenging. She also worried that the complexity of braille musical scores might discourage young children with visual impairments from learning music at all. So she developed a “Tactile Stave Notation” system, in which traditional music notation is embossed, giving it a raised, 3-D quality that blind musicians can read by touch.

With Kim’s system, blind musicians can read the musical score using both hands at once. And because the music isn’t translated into braille, students who are blind don’t need to learn the musical braille system first. As an added bonus, both sighted and visually impaired musicians can read the same sheet music at the same time.

Kim has a bachelor’s degree in piano performance and a master’s in music education. She developed her tactile system for her doctoral dissertation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

There’s a provisional patent on the system and Kim is raising money to pay the legal fees. For now, though, the system is expensive to produce and it may be some time before it becomes universally available. An article about Kim and her tactile system appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal. It’s worth reading just to learn more about Kim’s impressive musical journey.