Gaza’s Swift Braille helps the blind use smartphones

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Swift Braille is a smartphone app that aims to help visually impaired and blind people communicate with others in writing.

Worldwide there are an estimated 39 million blind people, 12.6 percent of whom are in MENA and often living without a suitable infrastructure or integration with the surrounding community - especially in countries living under unstable conditions.

Mohammad Albanna, a Palestinian developer from Gaza, noticed the lack of smartphone apps tailored to Arab-speakers generally. While looking for good ideas for an Android app, he saw an opportunity to help blind people use a smartphone to communicate.

A keyboard for the blind and visually impaired

Swift Braille has a virtual smartphone keyboard, which users configure to their language and communicate in text with others. The app uses Android’s built-in voice and vibration feedback.The app works on Android devices only, and offers support for Arabic language letters, diacritics, and also Hindi numbers, alongside other three languages: English, French, and Spanish. The app is free.

Swiftbraille in action. (Image via Swift Braille)

Albanna developed his first app to manage phone notifications called AppsComposer in December 2015, and has self-developed his skills since then to launch Swift Braille.

Being new to the field of Android development did not discourage Albanna from learning the methods to build his app. “I wanted a keyboard integrated with the Android system, simple to activate, and easy to customize,” he told Wamda.

He learned about similar apps in the market, drew a sketch and developed the main body of the app, then shot various educational videos on how to use it.

He released an open beta in October to take feedback from users, and will launch the full version at the start of 2017 - although as he’s building it entirely by himself he has no clear timeline yet.

Facing competition

Other alternative apps in the market are Soft Braille and MBraille, and Albanna admits the competition is strong.

He said his competitive advantage lies in the fact that his was an Arabic-first app that also supported three other languages that were not usually available in competitor apps. Further, his app can be used with one hand one finger - similar to how a normal smartphone keyboard works - as opposed to the technology used by competitors apps that asks people to use both of their hands to type.

The app received some hype and attention on its initial launch, and blind Spanish and French speakers were interested enough to join the team pro bono to get the app off the ground. It was these new additions who later helped integrate these languages into the app.

Getting recognition

The project of Swift Braille has been selected with other six projects to represent Palestine in the coming World Summit Award finals likely to be held in January 2017; in addition to winning the Kuwaiti Alsabah Award in late November, a competition nurturing informatics innovation in MENA region.

The app has been downloaded more than 2,800 times from Google Play. Albanna estimates that about 40 percent of users are from MENA.

As for the future of the app, the developer is aiming to develop a profitable model by offering some paid functions and features to help the blind type faster and more accurately, and also introduce an iOS version.

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