SepidKhan: An alternate for Persian/Arabic braille

After seeing the complexity of Persian braille and the great idea of Elia Life Technology for the English (Latin) braille, I have decided to do a Persian version of their work. I have contacted the CEO of Elia Life and I have sent some info, etudes and other stuff.

Also I am trying to do it in Iran in collaboration with the only Persian braille newspaper (Iran e Sepid) and some charities. Really appreciated if you comment on this as well.

But why an alternate?

Braille is 200 years old and it is estimated that only 10% or less of the blind people can use braille! Why? Because it is very hard. Braille is based on some random dots, with no order or meaning whatsoever. So a blind person should memorize all of them and translate (or transliterate) them in their heads every time. For Persian it is worse, because it is backwards.

Another interesting statistics is only 1% of all blind or visual impaired people are born this way. Why this is important? Because about 99% of them had already seen their mother language alphabet at least once. So if we could have had a script somehow similar to the original alphabet they could learn it much easier than braille.
They did it!

Elia Life Technology did this after years of research and analysis. The letters are based on the Latin alphabet. They used something named ‘frames’ to make it simpler for the blinds to recognize the letters.
There are only 3 frames: Circular, Square and a house shape. They have explained it here letter by letter.

So I started form here. I have designed non-cursive Persian fonts before which I discussed about them here, so I thought it is something that I should do.

You can see the letters and their equivalents in below pictures:



Dots!
Half of the Persian letters have dots. Dots is very important in Persian alphabet, because unlike Latin we have some groups of totally identical letters that the only thing that separate them from each other are their dots. Persian letters could have one, two or three dots.
So I thought we could minimize the letters that has dots to their dots with a little help from the ‘frames’.
We not only preserve the groups of similar letters by making them look-alike, but also make the learning experience easier, because you learn ب for example and you can read پ, ت and ث.

Advantages:
I named this new script “SepidKhan” (=ReadingWhite). Other advantages of using SepidKhan is the fact that it’s LTR, which makes translating and transliterating much faster and easier.
The next thing is the relation between blinds and their friends and families. People can’t read braille, even 90% of blinds can’t use braille, but this new script can be learnt in less than an hour and both of them can read it.

You can see some other benefits of using a script like this instead of braille:



Fonts or translators?
Braille can’t be used as a font. (I think it could be if only they didn’t make it much harder than it already is by adding grades and abbreviations and… Remember the 10%?) So even if a braille researcher, a teacher, author… wants to write some letters in braille (especially Persian) they have to use graphics or a braille translator.

But SepidKhan is a script and a font. And because it is not a different language with different grammar or vocabulary, it can do the translation by changing the font of a standard Persian text and everybody can write with it without the need to use a software/hardware. One could think of hundreds of books or articles that can be converted to a blind-friendly script by one click.

Important: There is no need to throw away braille for good! All those 10% that can use braille, will be using it for sure. I don’t think that a solution to help blinds to read and write should be always one thing and inevitably using Unicode braille patterns or some current hardware/software.

It is 21st century and braille was created in the 19th! Also there are a lot of scripts and typefaces, why blind people can’t have 2 scripts (sets of letters)?

And finally to write with this new script the Elia group came out with a Touch Printer and a Tactile Display. I hope if the Persian/Arabic version got finalized, Persians and Arabs could use those too.

So what do you think about Elia frames and SepidKhan?

Read this in Persian here.


Comments

  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,462
    Wow. This is impressive work. A great reminder that while Latin Type designers keep the infill coming, people working with non-Latin scripts are doing work of serious importance.
  • Wow. This is impressive work. A great reminder that while Latin Type designers keep the infill coming, people working with non-Latin scripts are doing work of serious importance.
    Thanks a lot. Really appreciated your kind comment.
  • joeclarkjoeclark Posts: 109

    Braille is used by few visually-impaired persons because few of them are born blind or become blind in very early childhood. In previous eras, such children would be educated in “blind schools,” where Braille was actually taught.

    With the trend toward “mainstreaming” in the last 30 years, blind children go to regular schools and rarely get intensive training in Braille. Sighted administrators figure that blind kids can just listen to all the printed matter they would ever need throughout their entire lives. (Funny how they never say that about sighted kids.) As a result, Braille literacy, and general literacy and ability to spell and punctuate, among blind and visually-impaired adults have cratered.

    You are attempting to solve a problem that doesn’t exist, or, if it exists, has been solved already. What you are responding to is Braille’s universal left-to-right direction, which offends you morally.

    There isn’t going to be a second form of Braille just for Farsi. Among other things, Unicode will never encode this script, and no transliteration software will ever support it, and the overlapping Venn diagrams of Farsi-speaking blind people who don’t know Braille but wish to learn it is smaller than the attendance at TypeCon every year.

    Further, if you were really committed to encoding Farsi in tactile dots, you would encode initial, medial, and terminal forms. But you subconsciously recognized that Braille characters are unconnected, hence that would be pointless. So much of this project is.

    You have an experimental project. It is worthy in and of itself as an experiment. It isn’t a solution to anything, least of all a set of problems you barely understand.

  • joeclark said:
    I think you may want to read the post again. Thanks anyway!
  • Also, a small error: "Other advantages of using SepidKhan is the fact that it’s LTR"

    I believe you meant to say RTL, no?
  • I visited the Elia Life website and I confess that I am a bit skeptical of many of their claims -- particularly because they claim to have done extensive research but don't actually provide any links or references to this research.

    The claim I am most skeptical of is that their systems is significantly easier to learn than Braille. I don't think that similarity to latin characters is going to be a major advantage to learning a tactile alphabet — after all, there are only ~40 symbols to learn which isn't a difficult feat.

    Much more difficult is learning to read using an entirely different modality (touch vs. visual) and the fact that a given pattern might be easy to discern visually does not necessarily translate into be easy to process tactilely.

    I think a major reason that the Moon Alphabet (which is only slightly less old than Braille) hasn't caught on is precisely for this reason -- dots are probably the simplest form to learn to process tactilely, whereas I suspect more complex shapes require considerably more effort.

    I would suggest, therefore, that you're really putting the cart before the horse here — if you feel that traditional Braille is not adequate, then a fairly major research programme would be required to confirm this and to identify strategies which might be preferable. Proposing an alternative to Braille should be the absolute last step in this process. The focus really should be on determining which sorts of tactile patterns are easiest to recognize, both individually and in running text.

    André
  • Also, a small error: "Other advantages of using SepidKhan is the fact that it’s LTR"

    I believe you meant to say RTL, no?
    Yes! And unfortunately it doesn't allow me to edit this :(
  • Shahab SiavashShahab Siavash Posts: 121
    edited November 6
    I visited the Elia Life website and I confess that I am a bit skeptical of many of their claims -- particularly because they claim to have done extensive research but don't actually provide any links or references to this research.

    The claim I am most skeptical of is that their systems is significantly easier to learn than Braille. I don't think that similarity to latin characters is going to be a major advantage to learning a tactile alphabet — after all, there are only ~40 symbols to learn which isn't a difficult feat.

    Much more difficult is learning to read using an entirely different modality (touch vs. visual) and the fact that a given pattern might be easy to discern visually does not necessarily translate into be easy to process tactilely.

    I think a major reason that the Moon Alphabet (which is only slightly less old than Braille) hasn't caught on is precisely for this reason -- dots are probably the simplest form to learn to process tactilely, whereas I suspect more complex shapes require considerably more effort.

    I would suggest, therefore, that you're really putting the cart before the horse here — if you feel that traditional Braille is not adequate, then a fairly major research programme would be required to confirm this and to identify strategies which might be preferable. Proposing an alternative to Braille should be the absolute last step in this process. The focus really should be on determining which sorts of tactile patterns are easiest to recognize, both individually and in running text.

    André
    Thanks Andre. I'm always skeptical as well about new things :) But I think maybe this information can help a little:
    ELIA takes a different position. The company, which is an honorable mention this year for Fast Company’s Innovation By Design Awards, has raised roughly $450,000 in angel investment since it was founded. It has received $2.7 million from organizations such as the National Institute on Aging and the National Eye Institute (divisions of the National Institutes of Health), the National Institute for Standards and Technology, and NYSTAR. More recently, ELIA also worked to develop a touch printer in partnership with Hewlett-Packard, as well as a tactile display, both of which would serve to put ELIA in the hands of visually impaired people. After 17 years of research and user testing, ELIA is hoping to bring the new system to the masses starting at the end of this year. 

    And if all of these are all lies, maybe you're right. But about braille and dots being the simple solution, I wrote that only 10% of blind people could read braille, how come it is that simple that the rates are this low? 

    Over the years that ELIA has been up and running, the company has tested the alphabet on 175,000 participant responses. The first study included three groups of people, each of whom received 30 hours of training and testing. One group learned braille, one ELIA, and the other a system of raised Roman letters. The second study also included those three systems, but participants trained for an increased 60 hours of instruction and testing. In addition to testing for speed and understanding against other systems, ELIA researchers also tested the ELIA groups with random letterforms to see how those letters performed. They solicited feedback on the letters that participants struggled with and adjusted them accordingly. 

    From this detailed post about Elia: https://www.fastcodesign.com/90136975/the-complicated-quest-to-redesign-braille

  • Yes, I saw the Co.Design article. Once again, it mentions research but doesn't actually point to the actual research. I'm not suggesting that they are lying, but it's not possible to objectively evaluate research that hasn't been made public.

    With respect to the fact that Braille has a low readership, that doesn't necessarily indicate anything about the difficulty in learning Braille (and if it did, even fewer people know the Moon alphabet which is based on principles similar to Elia). This may simply indicate a lack of available educational opportunities for many people with visual impairments.

    André
  • Yes, I saw the Co.Design article. Once again, it mentions research but doesn't actually point to the actual research. I'm not suggesting that they are lying, but it's not possible to objectively evaluate research that hasn't been made public.

    With respect to the fact that Braille has a low readership, that doesn't necessarily indicate anything about the difficulty in learning Braille (and if it did, even fewer people know the Moon alphabet which is based on principles similar to Elia). This may simply indicate a lack of available educational opportunities for many people with visual impairments.

    André
    Maybe. Or perhaps they don't want to publish the research until they finalize and release the products. And despite the fact that it works or not, I still personally think that braille is a very difficult and old method. If it was the other way around, nobody would have approved braille as an alternate to something like Moon or Elia. The only reason that it is still around is its history. People generally don't like change. 

    I think the reason for "a lack of available educational opportunities" is in fact braille being a hard learning script. If it was a simple or logical one, you could easily train new teachers and also educate more blind people. Imagine it didn't take weeks to learn braille, it didn't need software/hardware or reverse writing system,... 


  • For almost all writing systems, the main reason they are still around is their history! This is not a meaningful criticism. Very few were designed in some logical manner according to a rational scheme. (Korean being a notable exception.)

    In any case, I agree wholeheartedly with André. It is not that we think there’s anything wrong with Elia; we just have a high standard of evidence. Strong claims are being made, and they need strong evidence. I won’t be surprised if the evidence does materialize, it certainly sounds as if it exists. But I do want to see it.
  • Did you develop this with blind people? Changing a culture is hard enough, but doing it as an outsider is near impossible.
  • Shahab SiavashShahab Siavash Posts: 121
    edited November 8
    For almost all writing systems, the main reason they are still around is their history! This is not a meaningful criticism. Very few were designed in some logical manner according to a rational scheme. (Korean being a notable exception.)

    In any case, I agree wholeheartedly with André. It is not that we think there’s anything wrong with Elia; we just have a high standard of evidence. Strong claims are being made, and they need strong evidence. I won’t be surprised if the evidence does materialize, it certainly sounds as if it exists. But I do want to see it.
    You're absolutely right about the writing systems. I am no fan of Persian alphabet myself for example. Because it was forced after the Arab invasions in 1400 years ago. If you look it up Persian and Arabic languages don't even have the same roots. But Persians were forced to use the script. As a result we have 4 'Z' sounds in our alphabet which we all pronounce exactly the same. In Arabic language they are all pronounced differently and that was the reason to implement them in the script. In Persian there is no point to use all these extra letters.

    But I bet if only 10% or less of Iranians (or Afghans and Tajiks) could read or write Persian script, we certainly would do something about that, wouldn't we?

    Elia is very new to me too, but I thought it has a good concept. I hope it can be used some day and even if it never will, it could be a step to remind us all that maybe sometimes there are more important things in the design community worth trying. Maybe not Moon, not Elia, but someday something rise up and can fix the horrible usage rate of braille. 
  • Did you develop this with blind people? Changing a culture is hard enough, but doing it as an outsider is near impossible.
    I'm trying to reach out to blind communities at the moment, but I think not everyone is a fan of totally new things even if the old one is really poor. I never understood what's the harm in that, but as I said earlier I'm always for new things, we could try and find out. If it's not working, sure we can throw it out. But without even testing it i don't know how one could be sure of some new idea working or not.
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