Heroes

This incredible smartwatch converts texts and emails into braille.

Dot Inc. is making giant leaps in braille technology and accessibility.

This incredible smartwatch converts texts and emails into braille.

There hasn't really been a true innovation in technology for the blind in 15 years. Until now.

When Eric Ju Yoon Kim was in college at the University of Washington, he saw something that he thought should change.

A blind student entered a group meeting Kim was attending with a massive heavy book. It was the bible translated into braille — and the massive book was just one of the 23 volumes necessary to read the whole text.


There should be a device, Kim thought, that lets people with visual impairments read whenever and wherever they want without having to lug giant books around with them. A digital reading device perhaps, like a braille iPad. Surely someone had thought of that.

To Kim's surprise, such a device didn't exist.

He saw a need and set out to fill it.

Eric Ju Yoon Kim (center) and the rest of the Dot team. Photo from dotincorp.com, used with permission.

Kim put together a team of specialists in hardware, software ,and design and is now the CEO of Dot Inc.

The company specializes in tech innovations for the blind and visually impaired. Its mission is to increase braille accessibility and literacy and to "reduce the invisible discrimination against people living with blindness."

Their latest product, the Dot Watch, is a sleek and stylish smartwatch that converts texts, emails, notifications, and even e-books, into braille.

Sleek, stylish, and innovative. Photo courtesy of Doo Hyuk Chang and Dot Inc.

"While talking with visually impaired people themselves, there were many who said that the current watches made for [them] have their own flaws." Doo Hyuk Chang, Dot's Head of Media Relations, told Upworthy.

Previous watches for the visually impaired tended to rely on sound to relay information.

"Feedback by sound is absolutely fine," Chang said, "But what about in public places or during meetings? There are many situations where sound feedback is not the best way."

The Dot Watch. Photo courtesy of Doo Hyuk Chang and Dot Inc

When a Dot Watch wearer gets a text message, the watch vibrates and small pins on its surface rise and fall to produce 4 braille characters at a time. So maybe it's not the best way to read a novel, but it's an amazing development nonetheless.

When the Dot Watch isn't translating text notifications, like any other smart watch, it displays the time.

As touch screens become ubiquitous, technology becomes understandably limited for the visually impaired who navigate the world by touch and feel.

Dot's goal is to make the technology that many of us take for granted every day accessible to everyone.

"We are also thinking of a module that will be installed in public areas such as bus stops, metro stations, airports, and other locations," Chang told Upworthy of the company's road map. "For example, it could display the bus number, station name, time left for next transport to arrive."

But Dot's braille innovations mean little if the braille literacy rate remains where it is.

The National Federation of the Blind reports that only 10% of blind students in the U.S. are being taught braille in school.

That's the other problem Dot wants to solve.

"Through our devices," says Chang "not only the Dot Watch but also products in our future road map, we want to make the education of braille easier and accessible."

Users of the watch will have access to an app that can pronounce, out loud, a letter on your phone while displaying it on the watch in braille, providing an easy and convenient way for people to learn braille on their own.

Dot also wants to improve literacy with the upcoming Dot Pad, the device that fulfills Eric Ju Yoon Kim's vision of a braille iPad.

A preview of the Dot Pad, still in development. Photo from dotincorp.com used with permission.

According to Doo Hyuk Chang, the Dot Pad "will be the first braille device that can display in several lines, and not, all in one line like the products out in the market right now."

It will also be the first device to display graphs, functions, and other mathematical content that will make learning immeasurably easier for the visually impaired.

"This pad will make the education of braille easier, and education of studies in braille easier," Chang explains.

The company's use of simple magnets and materials also means their products are affordable.

Currently, the Dot Watch is only $300 for pre-order.

If that doesn't sound affordable, it's important to note that braille reading machines can cost thousands of dollars, which is a lot to ask of the estimated 10 million people in the U.S. who are blind or visually impaired.

Dot's vision of a world with more innovations for the blind is inspiring. And as their company grows, so does their mission.

"Our goal in the end is to have total independence [for] visually impaired people," explains Chang. "Visually impaired people walking on the streets alone without canes or guide dogs is what we are going to make possible one day, and technology is the key to this process."

When compassion intersects with technology, amazing things can happen.

It's often the most simple ideas that make the world a better place for everyone.

The Dot Watch is currently available for early pre-order on their website.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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