Scott Stoffel, who is deaf and legally blind, invented last year a device which transmits Braille. Five seniors at Temple University, Philadelphia / Jennifer Hanna, of Allentown; Okechi Ugoji, of Nigeria; McGeary Brown, of Providence, R.I.; Christian Kaitell, of Philadelphia and Carl Waitz have further developed the mechanism together with Professor Hefferty.
This device could be used by a sighted and hearing person to communicate with someone who is blind and deaf, without having to learn Braille or hand/sign language.
This "Tacti/com" could become a $1,000 portable alternative to other communication devices available to the almost 100,000 people who suffer impairment of both sight and hearing. The existing devices cost up to $10,000.
How does it work? Each letter is transmitted by FM radio signal to a black box. Buttons on the top of the box move up and down, spelling out the incoming message for the blind person to feel in the Braille alphabet. It is like a wireless.
A future version might operate from a handheld computer. Three prototypes built by the students will be tested at the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf/Blind Youths and Adults in Sands Point, N.Y.
Stoffel, of Arlington, Va., has a degenerative neurological disorder that has robbed him of hearing and most of his sight. He can read large letters up close, and he completed studies at Temple by slowly reading huge/font text on a computer screen.
But reading Braille in the standard way with his fingertips has always been difficult for him because his disorder also causes fingertip numbness. Hence, his quest for a device to read with his palms. He first invented the device when he was a Senior at Temple last year.
The students' wireless version of the Tacti/com works on two 9/volt batteries. Its keyboard does not need to be connected to a desktop computer, as Stoffel's original did. And the wireless components have a range of up to 500 feet.