Accessibility Through Technology

Something I feel pretty strongly about is using technology to create low cost solutions for people with special challenges.  The maker space has been a catalyst for this and makers continue to drive low cost solutions into the hands of those who need it.  In some cases people are in desperate need of a solution but in others they just want a gadget adapted specifically for them.  It is not about making a solution with the most commercial appeal, its about taking a skill set and applying it to a cause that could help others.  It’s certainly not all about that, but for the most part in the subculture of makers specifically focused on making things for the sake of  humanity, it is rare that mass market appeal is the main motivator.

There is a lot of naivety in this space but being naive when creating a solution is also in my opinion the most important component to innovation.  You have to be a bit naive to think that you are going to make something that has an impact on a few, a hundred, or even thousands of people especially when it is on a relatively small budget.  But it happens everyday, people make useful things and in some cases it’s a result of true necessity and in others, just something that someone thinks they can do better and reach more people.  I recently put some thought into what innovation meant, I checked the definition and found no short of 10 unique definitions.  I did not find one particular that I felt truly defined it so I came up with my own and the way I see it is it is a “solution that has impact and transcends norms”.  This is my definition when I think of innovation in terms of the maker space with a focus on accessibility.  Norms in this case would be the barriers that are inherent in the medical community when it comes to low cost solutions.

I found myself recently looking for ways to prepare Rebecca for the world as she gets older and her retinitis pigmentosa further degrades her vision.  We have and continue to prepare her for a world that is not necessarily well adapted for deafness but even less so for blindness.  I came up with an idea of how we could teach her braille in a fun way while she still has her vision.  Although the device is far from complete, this is the first proof of concept of a braille toy which will eventually be used to teach her how to read using her fingers.  I will be sharing the progress of this project as it progresses along with others that I will be working on in the future.  I hope this helps inspire other makers in this accessibility subculture to keep creating and coming up with ideas that could change the world for the person or group that you initially had in mind, it is more likely than not however that you will help far more than originally anticipated.


Part 1 of the Braille Teaching Toy

This is a proof of concept for the toy.  Still a long way to go before it is complete  The main goals of the toy are:

  1. Familiarize Rebecca with the braille language
  2. Make it fun!

First, a quick video of the single cell in action.  The toy will have four of these cells and react to  input from Rebecca.  More on the input mechanism in a later post.





I came up with a relatively simple design for actuating a six dot braille cell.  I had a few options here but this is the one I settled on.

Image may contain: food


The simplest form of converting rotational motion to linear motion in my opinion is through a scotch yoke configuration, so I modeled the mechanism after that.  As the wheel turns the shaft will follow the pin on the wheel and in turn drive the shaft forward and backward.


Image result for scotch yoke mechanism


This is the mechanism based on the above scotch yoke configuration.


The mechanism uses two actuators driven by two servos to make up each letter.  The servos are driven by an Arduino Uno

Image result for arduino uno

The servos used in the project were around $2.00 a piece.  They are manufactured by Tower Pro and for the cost they were pretty reliable and repeatable.

Image result for tower pro

They were wired up to the arduino similarly to that in the image but an additional servo was added to pin 10.


The following code (bottom of page) was programmed on the device and it cycles through the word “Hello”.  This was just a brute force way to prove that it would work.

That’s where the project is at the moment, the next step will be working on improving the interconnect points on the actuator drive mechanism, duplicating the cells, and creating a box for it all to mount to.  After that, getting the NFC interface to work will be the next priority.


Related projects:

Interactive Visual Acuity Puzzle (Lea Shapes) using RPi3 and Arduino micro

Adapting the World to Her -Jake





#include <Servo.h>

Servo servoLeft; // Define left servo
Servo servoRight; // Define right servo

void setup() {
servoLeft.attach(10); // Set left servo to digital pin 10
servoRight.attach(9); // Set right servo to digital pin 9

void loop() { // Loop through motion tests
H(); // Example: move forward
delay(2000); // Wait 2000 milliseconds (2 seconds)
pause ();

// Motion routines for forward, reverse, turns, and stop
void H() {

void E() {

void L() {

void pause() {

void L2() {

void O() {






One comment

  1. […] and feel for the Braille teaching toy I am making for Rebecca.  More about the idea here in this link,  I still have not officially disclosed how she will interact with it.  Ill save that for when it […]


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