Despite the importance of literacy to employment and social well-being, the literacy rate of the visually impaired and deaf population is estimated to be quite low. Braille, the primary method of reading and writing for the blind, is a tactile system in which embossed dots representing letters and numbers can be read with the fingers. Similarly, the primary method of communication for the deaf is sign language. Sign language simultaneously combines hand shapes, orientation and movement of the hands, arms or body, and facial expressions to express fluidly a deaf speaker's thoughts. As is the case in spoken language, Braille and sign language can differ from one region to another, but the basic elements of both Braille and sign language remain consistent across cultures. A significant problem in education for both the deaf and visually impaired populations is that they are minority populations and hence often have less guided practice in communication. They also participate in fewer interactions with the larger community that reinforce their literacy and communication skills. Finally, the focus of technological enhancements to education has primarily focused on the majority populations, and hence very few automated tutors and educational computing games have been created for visually impaired and deaf children.

Our work aims to remedy this situation by developing assistive technology to enhance education for the visually impaired and deaf populations throughout the world. We have developed several tools including a Braille writing tutor (BWT) and the DeSIGN software application, which provides guided practice for communication using sign language. The BWT is a device that connects to a computer through a USB cable. As the student writes each Braille letter or number, the tutor provides immediate audio feedback by repeating the written characters and guiding writing through audio cues, and a variety of curricular and game modes. The DeSIGN tool aims to increase the reading level of the students who are taught to communicate using sign language by reinforcing the mapping between vocabulary and signs through lessons, tests, and games. It also has an interactive game, which provides teachers with a customizable tool for motivating students.


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  1. A. Abdulsalam, Assistive educational technology, QFARF Proceedings, 2010, CSP4.
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