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Israeli Computer Mouse Helps the Blind to 'See'

From: Kristina Seyer Smith <kristina@bonair.Stanford.EDU>
Date: Sat, 14 Apr 2001 21:13:47 -0700
Message-Id: <>
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
W3C-WAI Colleagues:

My husband forwarded me this story that was featured last week on Yahoo.
I thought you might find this interesting.


>  Thursday April 12 10:07 PM ET
>Israeli Computer Mouse Helps the Blind to 'See'
>Reuters Photo
>By Danielle Haas
>JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An Israeli hi-tech company has produced a computer 
>mouse that acts as the eyes of the blind and partially-sighted by helping 
>them view computer graphics through touch.
>Growing dependence on graphics and ``mice'' to navigate screens in 
>increasingly computer-based societies have limited the ability of the 
>partially-sighted to use new technology.
>Manufacturers tout the VirTouch system (VTS), which lets the blind ``see'' 
>the delicate strokes of a sketch by the artist Pablo Picasso or the 
>outline of countries on a map, as a ''quantum leap'' toward their 
>integration into the world of the sighted.
>``It breaks with the past by adding graphics to the universe of the blind 
>person,'' said Art Braunstein, corporate relations director at VirTouch Ltd.
>The company has integrated existing computer products for the blind and 
>partially-sighted that are based on text-to-speech software and the 
>Braille alphabet, with a device that acts both as a mouse and a tactile 
>VTS allows the blind to recognize graphic shapes, pictures, play tactile 
>computer games and read text in normal letters or Braille by placing 
>fingers on three pads that respond when a cursor on the computer screen 
>touches a graphic or letter.
>``The system is not only based on touch, but the user can listen to the 
>representation with an audio device and see the image if they have sight. 
>It's really the first multi-sensual device for the blind,'' said company 
>founder Roman Gouzman.
>Pins On The Pad
>Thirty-two pins on each pad move up in a black area, down in a white area 
>and somewhere in the middle for gray zones.
>The different heights enable the blind person to feel the curvature of 
>lines and shading of computer graphics, or Braille symbols or standard 
>alphabet letters when reading text.
>Users can pretend to be racing drivers by steering a car along a winding 
>road using the sense of the raised pins to keep to the right path, or 
>practice archery by aiming for a bulls-eye target using the same technique.
>Reuters Photo
>``We sighted people use symbolic representation to be more efficient,'' 
>Gouzman said.
>``This special software teaches the blind to use the same symbols as we do 
>to study geography, maths, biology, for example which was thought to be 
>virtually impossible before,'' he said.
>A Russian immigrant to Israel, Gouzman was inspired to develop the mouse 
>after a skiing accident in the former Soviet Union left his daughter with 
>permanent eye damage, and said he does not believe VTS faces a significant 
>market competitor.
>Gouzman and his partner Igor Karasin began work from their kitchen table 
>on the four-year project to create the special mouse, using blind people 
>to test the device as they went.
>The VirTouch system, which hit the markets in September 2000 and retails 
>for just under $5,000, has found a receptive audience with institutions in 
>Israel and abroad.
>Among those interested is Israel's Ministry of Education, which has bought 
>30 systems and agreed to study the introduction of the technology in 
>schools throughout the country.
>In January, VirTouch signed an agreement with a Dutch social venture fund 
>to secure $1.25 million in equity financing and has signed up distributors 
>in several European countries.
>The VirTouch system may yet prove effective in giving the blind a 
>collective voice as well as helping them to ``see.''
>``As the technology catches on and becomes more prominent, the blind are 
>going to demand more Web sites giving them parallel graphic images of 
>pictures,'' Braunstein predicted. ``It may even help advance legislation 
>for the disabled as they demand the right to have the same technology as 
>the sighted.''
>The Jerusalem-based company anticipates the estimated 20 million blind and 
>partially sighted people in the Western world alone are part of an even 
>larger potential market.
>The audio component could help the dyslexic as they hear the text at the 
>same time as they read, while the use of the palm and the motoric system 
>to move and manipulate the mouse may assist those suffering motor 
>coordination difficulties.

Kristina Seyer Smith
Manager of Maps and Records
Spatial Information/GIS

Facilities Operations, Maps and Records
327 Bonair Siding
Stanford, CA 94305-7270
650-723-0594 Voice
650-723-7905 FAX
Received on Sunday, 15 April 2001 00:15:20 UTC

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