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