While listening to Anindya Bhattacharyya (Bapin) at "The Magic of Technology for the Deaf-Blind Population" workshop in Raleigh today I starting thinking again about Morse code. Bapin was lamenting the high cost of Braille displays. The problem, as with most assistive technology, is low volume. You can buy a great laptop for less than $1k but a Braille display to go with it is going to cost several thousand. He told about students they train at Helen Keller National Center for the Deaf-Blind having to wait for years to get the equipment they need.
Why not Morse code for display?
- Even completely deaf individuals could hold a commodity earphone plugged in to the headphone jack on a laptop; the user should easily feel the headphone vibrate. The speakers on many laptops likely produce enough vibration to be felt as well.
- Software could display on-screen text as Morse code. I think it would be easy to extend the free Linux Screen reader or to adapt JAWS or Window Eyes to display Morse much like they do Braille.
- With a little software, many cell phones could be used for text messaging by displaying the text in Morse on the built-in vibrator. This would allow deaf-blind individuals to communicate using cheap commodity phones.
- Lots of PDAs could be similarly adapted.
- Morse is easy to learn.
- Morse is reasonably fast. Old-time radio operators commonly transcribed Morse at 70 words per minute.
- Older adults with poor sensitivity in their finger tips have great difficulty reading Braille, but could easily feel the vibrations of Morse.
- Using the common stereo sound card we could place the vibrations for dots and dashes in different places which might make them easier to distinguish for beginners.
- Using a refreshable Braille display requires moving one hand back and forth between the display and the keyboard. With a speaker/vibrator placed on the back of the hand or wrist you could type with both hands while reading.