NIH Funds Smartphone Accessibility Research

Computer science professors Xiaojun Bi and IV Ramakrishnan
Computer science professors Xiaojun Bi and IV Ramakrishnan

Professors Xiaojun Bi and IV Ramakrishnan from the Department of Computer Science received a $1.3M R01 award from the National Institutes of Health’s National Eye Institute (NEI) for the project, Intelligent Text Input and Editing Methods on Smartphones for Blind Users.

The project is inspired by studies indicating that blind individuals usually type at a rate of 4-5 words per minute (WPM), which is 90% slower than the average typing speed of 36 WPM for sighted individuals.

To narrow this large disparity in typing speed, researchers will investigate and develop a new generation of intelligent and accessible text input and editing methods to substantially enhance the proficiency with which blind smartphone users input and edit text.

Researchers will focus on three thrusts: (1) Development of  a robust nonvisual free-form gesture input method to replace the existing slow and tedious search-and-confirm based text entry method on soft keyboards; (2)  Development of  resilient auto-correction and auto-completion functionalities for a braille soft keyboard; (3) Enhancement of non-visual text editing methods by leveraging large language models, to enable editing through touch gestures integrated with voice recognition, allowing users to seamlessly transition between touch and voice inputs.

"The project will significantly improve the text-based communication experience for blind users and is certain to benefit millions of blind smartphone users around the world,” Bi said.

NEI is dedicated to vision research with the goal of "preventing vision loss and enhancing quality of life through vision research." They support groundbreaking research in eye and visual systems, and the project by Bi and Ramakrishnan aligns seamlessly with NEI's mission.