The Read Read’s Kickstarter Campaign Launches to Tackle Illiteracy Among Visually-Impaired and Blind
Developed at the Harvard Innovation Lab and Backed by World-Class Education Leaders, the Read Read is an Award-Winning Device that Makes Independent Braille and Phonics Learning Accessible to All
CAMBRIDGE, MA, May 23, 2017 – A Kickstarter campaign launches today to fund the production of the Read Read--an innovative, physical tool that allows the blind and visually-impaired to independently practice reading braille and large-print. The campaign will span 60 days, with an initial goal of collecting $273,000. All of the proceeds will go toward producing and supplying at least 400 individuals in need with this empowering device.
The Read Read features a friendly, tactile interface with alphabetic and phonetic tiles, along with built-in, high quality audio supports. Each tile has a large print letter or phonetic sound and corresponding braille. The user can assemble the tiles to spell out words on a conductive, magnetic grid. When the braille portion of a tile is touched while placed on the grid, the Read Read articulates the letter’s name or the sound that the letter makes, depending on the mode to which the device is set (see demonstration video here). The connection between the audio and lettered tiles mimics the interaction of a literacy specialist practicing one-on-one with a student, yet removes the need for the instructor’s constant presence. Its simple and easy-to-use interface provides the opportunity for users of all ages to practice braille and enhance literacy skills independently, in school or at home, with or without a teacher.
Designed and built by Alex Tavares, a master’s student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Read Read is the product of Tavares’s personal experiences and graduate work. The inspiration for the Read Read derives from Tavares’s years working as a literacy instructor for children and adults with various disabilities, during which he became acutely aware of the lack of adequate learning tools for his students studying phonics to practice on their own in-between learning sessions. “I found that toys and apps available were ineffective,” Tavares says. “The interfaces were too complex, and didn’t provide the salience required to teach the correspondence between letters and their sounds.” This glaring need stuck with Tavares as he began his graduate studies; the project became the focal point of his coursework, with its construction, pedagogy, and user interface supported and guided by a number of Harvard faculty members, who are renowned leaders in education.
To ensure efficacy, functionality, and ease of use, Tavares conducted a successful twelve-week pilot of the Read Read at the Perkins School for the Blind. Users testing the prototype included students who are blind, students who are visually-impaired, and students on the Autism spectrum, each with varying needs. Some used the device to practice phonics, manipulating the large-print tiles to create and decode phonetic words. Others, who had recently lost their vision, used the Read Read to practice braille and, coupled with their existing spelling knowledge, braille reading. Students who are blind and already able to understand braille used the Read Read to practice phonetic spelling. The phonetic component of the Read Read is essential, as conventions of braille that are used to make reading and writing more efficient often leave many blind students with poor spelling abilities that hamper their academic success and limit their employability.
The positive feedback the Read Read has received from users, literacy instructors, and educational leaders in both pilot testing and exhibitions demonstrates the incredible potential for impact the product could have when widely available. The Read Read can "change the course of history for kids who are blind," says Kate Crohan, a braille and technology teacher at the Perkins School for the Blind. While there are a plethora of physical learning devices available for general education students to strengthen reading skills independently, the Read Read is one-of-a-kind in that it makes independent learning and practice accessible to those who lack such tools that fit their specific needs.
This enhancement in access aligns with Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a transformative educational theory that is integrated in best practices for catering to diversity in learning styles and needs. At the Harvard UDL Expo in 2016, The Read Read won the award for the Best New and Innovative UDL Technology. Dr. Elizabeth Hartmann, a UDL professor at Harvard and an advisor of Tavares, says of the Read Read “it is a really fantastic tool for students who are blind or visually impaired to get excited about braille and to play around with a tool that exposes them to braille, large print, and braille literacy”.
Among Tavares’s other advisors are Dr. David Rose, the creator of Universal Design for Learning, and Dr. Thomas Hehir, the former Director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs. These mentors, along with his professors, have been instrumental in allowing Tavares to realize his dream of providing accessible literacy learning to all students.
Whether complementing teacher’s instruction in the classroom, or being used at home for engaging and reinforcing practice, the Read Read has the potential to empower so many blind and visually-impaired individuals. The Kickstarter campaign is critical in getting the Read Read into the hands of much deserving students. Donate to the cause on Kickstarter beginning May 23 - July 21. Let’s reach our goal!
About The Read Read
The Read Read is an innovative, award-winning, physical device that makes independent literacy practice accessible to blind and visually-impaired individuals of all ages. The interface is composed of moveable tiles, each featuring letters or phonetic sounds, with corresponding braille. Users interact with the Read Read, manipulating tiles to form words on a conductive grid and touching tiles to hear an audio representation of each letter or sound. The Read Read is currently seeking funding for production via Kickstarter to equip those in need with this empowering device.