While Braille has enabled blind people to carry out many everyday functions with relative ease, those with severely impaired vision have traditionally been unable to glean emotional information from one of its most important sources: the facial expressions of others. This may be changing, however, as the recent development of a Braille “code of emotions” that can help blind people get critical emotional information when engaged in conversation with others. The technology has been created as part of a doctoral thesis project at Umeå University in Sweden.
Much of the project was devoted to the challenging task of creating the specific code used to represent various facial expressions to the blind. Through identifying types of faces and their intensity, the code is able to accurately communicate how a person is feeling as they speak –a task which served as a primary challenge for the project and which represents a large step forward in biomedical engineering applications. In tandem with the development of this code, the project covered the creation of a simple camera no larger than a coin, which is able to handle facial expression input and translate the results to a small pad which vibrates in certain ways, alerting users to the emotions being expressed.
The initial design includes a small pad to be used on the back of a chair when learning the range of code pieces and their corresponding emotions. An arm sling can be worn to produce the same vibrations when users are speaking with others. Though there may be ample room for refinement and additional functionality, the design shows promise for helping blind people enjoy a richer and more accurate communication experience. The project may potentially aid the psychological well-being of the disabled to a great degree.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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