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  • Chris McMillan

Alibaba's Adhesive Buttons Help the Visually Impaired Interact With Smartphones


19th March 2019

Alibaba's Adhesive Buttons Help the Visually Impaired Interact With Smartphones


A design team led by DAMO Academy, the $15 billion research initiative formed by China’s premier e-commerce site, Alibaba, is working to make smartphones more accessible to the blind and visually impaired.

There are more than 1.4 billion smartphones in China, more than anywhere else in the world. China also has the highest population of visually impaired people, according to the latest data available from the World Health Organization.

“For people like us [the visually unimpaired], we have so many technologies, tools, and apps that make us better, happier,” said Chen Zhao, the research lead for the DAMO Academy’s natural human computer interaction lab, speaking at Fortune’s Brainstorm Design conference in Singapore earlier this month. “We’re spoiled by technology, but there are so many people that are left out.”

Zhao’s lab designs systems for interacting with technology using the five basic human senses: touch, sight, hearing, even taste and smell. At the Fortune conference, Zhao demonstrated the haptic solution her team has created to help visually impaired people interact with smartphone apps.

The solution is a combination of software, called Smart Touch, and hardware, called Braille Buttons. The six buttons adhere to the lower flanks of a phone’s screen, with three buttons aligned vertically on each side.


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