The Pop-up Reader: a Simple New Aid for the Blind and VI

What sort of a pop-up are we talking about you may wonder? Is it like a toaster (my first mental image) or maybe a pop-up window? Or a pop-up shop? It’s none of these. Pop-up is as in pop-up book.

If you’re like me you love pop-up books. Each page, made from stiff paper, is a work of art (it’s sometime described as paper sculpture), and each time you turn the page a three-dimensional castle, or dragon or ship or giant or tiger pops up and astonishes with its ingenuity and beauty. Here’s an example I found on Wikimedia. I think it’s a photo of a book by Jan Pienkowski.

From a childrens' book, a pop-up page of large and soulful-looking insect in a bathroom

Wikimedia, author Kim Viljanen

The pop-up reader is a bit like this although perhaps not quite as startling. Still we have a story and it begins with a text reader app.

Many people have smart phones and we’ve seen before how much human creativity and imagination has gone into apps to help people who are disabled.

One kind of assistive app is a text reader, for the blind or VI. Points, shoots and hears is the plan. The process is this

— > Phone camera captures image of something to be read.

— > Optical character recognition program converts image to text.

— > Speak-aloud facility of phone reads out result.

Put in this way it seems very simple. But like many assistive technologies the practical application is quite difficult. I downloaded a text reader app and tried it. At once I found problems I hadn’t seen in advance. Let’s say we want to read a restaurant menu (often taken as an example).

The main issue is holding the phone steady at just the right distance to frame the menu, so the camera can focus on it and the image includes the whole menu page and nothing else.

There are other issues, like poor illumination in restaurants, but just take the one above, which is crucial but something I found pretty difficult, although I still have a lot of sight. Anyone with very low vision would fund it intensely frustrating I imagine.

So we ask what could help overcome this, and the answer jumps out at us.

A pop-up reader!

Clever people at the Royal College of Art Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design came up with a bright idea. What we need is a sort of miniature gantry. The phone can rest on a cradle at the top and the document we want read on a bed at the bottom. Voila! The phone is held steady and and at just the right height. Here’s my rough sketch.A sketch of a cantlevered gantry, with the phone lying horizontally in a cradle at top, facing the document lying flat at bottom

The beauty of it is the reader can be made of cardboard. So it’s cheap and replaceable. Lots of dedicated assistive technology is very expensive, costing hundreds of pounds. This pop-up reader is essentially throw-away. It’s also light and portable and folds up.

There’s a video of the reader and a downloadable pattern here.

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About partialinsight

One evening I had a stroke. Half my sight vanished overnight. Adapting made me grasp how amazing the visual system and brain are. It also taught me to understand disability completely differently and I'm grateful for the lesson.
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