Why not Morse?

| tags: blind, deaf, enabling technology

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.
Refreshable Braille displays might well be faster than Morse and better in other ways but Morse is FREE! Its mighty hard to beat that price performance.