CANE ENABLED | Audio Interview With Daniel Lubiner
For this edition of Cane EnAbled, Bold Blind Beauty is thrilled to showcase one of our own. Daniel Lubiner is not only the creator of our Beyond Sight Magazine covers, but he is also a member of our Global Advisory Board. In today’s segment, Daniel will be walking us through how his inventions address the importance of Braille Literacy.
Making Braille Literacy & Tactile Art Accessible & Affordable
Welcome to Bold Blind Beauty, the home of Beyond Sight Magazine and our October 2020 Cane EnAbled segment. I am your host Nasreen. In addition to celebrating all things related to the white cane, including safety, usage, personalization, this monthly series also shares broad perspectives from those in the field, including parents of blind and visually impaired children, advocates and exciting news on the technology front.
Cane EnAbled is published on the fourth Monday of each month. Our guest today is an art teacher for the blind. He designs our Beyond Sight covers and he’s the inventor of the TouchPad Pro products. And he was a previous guest earlier this year and he’s back to continue the conversation. If you guessed Mr. Daniel Lubiner, then you’re right. Welcome, Daniel.
Thank you. Thank you. It’s so nice to be here.
So tell us a little bit about yourself?
Sure. Well, I’ve always been into the arts; drama, painting, sculpture, music. And I loved sharing that passion with other people, just performing for other people, showing people my artwork or helping them to do art. About 25 years ago, I became a special education teacher. I really have always loved working with kids and working with students. I’ve worked with all kinds of different students, from young kids up to college-age kids.
I have two sons, 19 and 22, and the older one is actually on the autistic spectrum. That kind of inspired me a while ago to start a small company called Arts for Everyone. That company was designed to help kids on the autistic spectrum to do art and drama with them, and I just found it worked wonderfully with them.
So I was able to use that, the arts and drama, throughout teaching, whether I was teaching math or English, it didn’t matter. I loved teaching, watching kids grow and sharing my passion for the arts. Another fascination of mine has always been with electronics and technology and new innovations.
And that makes me want to ask if you’re not visually impaired yourself, why the passion in creating assistive devices for folks with disabilities? And mostly, vision impaired?
Right. So about 10 years ago, I started working at the New York Institute For Special Education in The Bronx. It has been an honor to work for the school. We’re celebrating 190 years this year of being the school for the blind. We started back before Abraham Lincoln was president.
So it’s the history, the buildings, the people there. I mean, it’s just a wonderful place to work. So I started teaching art to the blind and low vision, and I was really nervous at first. They were like, “Okay, you’re going to teach art to blind and low vision people,” and I’m like, “What do I do? How do I make this doable?” But when I was working with these students, they gave me such inspiration. They gave me a whole new way of experiencing the world, a whole new way of thinking about art, and the way we take so many things for granted, mostly people with visions.
So helping my students create a tactile version of Starry Night, for example, these are things that led to the inventions of TouchPad Pro. So it’s all on touchpadpro.org.
So there are three assistive devices. Can you tell us about the technology of these products?
So the first big device was really a brainstorm was the TouchPad Pro. About four years ago, I was watching my students and the way they were working with their electronics and the way they were experiencing art, and I saw that there was not a lot of assistive technology for people in the low vision community. It was more stuff for the fully blind. So that got me thinking.
And also I started thinking about the tactile display and I started researching that. So a tactile display is one that has thousands of pins that come up and down to form different illustrations, or it could form braille as well. But it has different heights. So you can imagine like a face coming out where you could feel the nose, the cheeks, the eyes. It would just be wonderful for these students.
And for a while, people around the world have been trying to develop this type of thing. So I was like, “Assuming this thing is already made,” which it’s still not, but, “What else can we put into it?” So I thought, “Okay, we could have a full page of braille and touchable, multi-level full color illustrations. What if it had bright, bright colors so those with low vision could actually experience what they’re looking at in a multi-sensory way?” Because most of my students, like 75% of them, have some vision, but the magnifiers aren’t really what they want. They don’t want to magnify everything. They hold their eyes close to what they’re doing and they touch what they’re doing.
So that’s what inspired me to really work out this thing where it could be full color, they could experience illustrations, 3D photographs, selfies. Like imagine The Starry Night coming up and you’re able to touch the moon, the wind and the trees. And you could read up to 14 lines of braille and have like a keyboard pop up out of the surface so it’s touch sensitive so you could use it as a note taker. You could navigate the internet like never before. You could use a specialized stylus. So a stylus would be included that would be connected to it so you could draw things and you would have multi-sensory feedback.
It seems like some creators don’t understand that people actually feel what they’re doing at the same time that they’re doing something. So you can’t like hold a button and draw or do something. So the stylus allows you to draw and feel at the same time, and that’s also what happens with the other invention.
Now one thing, they say that this is going to be very expensive. People are going to have trouble affording this. But over time, I’m really hoping that we can make this much, much more affordable. If you check out TVs, like TVs that were five years were like $3,000, now they’re like 250, and I think that’s the way technology is.
So you could check out our cool video and lots of descriptions on touchpadpro.org. And the next one I’m going to tell you about is the BrailleDoodle. Now, a lot of people are excited about this one. So the BrailleDoodle is no electronics whatsoever. It’s just this plastic toy-like device. It’s a device made for the teaching braille, and also providing tactile art.
So it’d be like an estimated list price of under $65. The BrailleDoodles serve as a braille teaching tool, and you can make tactile drawings with it. So it’s covered with an array of hundreds of holes, and each hole has a tiny metal or magnetic object inside of it. And when you take a stylus, like a magnetic stylus, the little things come up and lock into place. So the lock would have to be strong enough so users can gently touch what they’ve created without having anything fall down.
They would be able to make a smiley face and touch it and they would be able to make a square and a circle. So it’d be really cool to play around with. I do have a prototype for this, and I brought it in for my students, and they were loving it. The problem with the prototype is the things don’t lock up as well and so we’re going to try to get the money to be able to make a real prototype of this, meaning that the pins or whatever metal things would lock up.
It has a braille cover also. So the plastic thing will have dozens of rectangular cut-outs and you slide it on and you’d have all these braille cells. So then you could make braille within the amount of braille cells you have there. So somebody could tell you how to count the dots. There’s like six dots in each braille cells and you do the upper right hand corner and put up one dot there and that’s an A. That sort of thing.
And then there’s a Braille Cloud which has … This one I really was thinking about. These are all inspired by Covid. I was thinking about these kids at home and that they don’t really have anything tactile for teaching with them. So I spoke to a teacher of braille. I was like, “How do you do it? How do you teach braille during these times?” She was like, “Well, it’s not easy but we just do this.”
So it just had me thinking, what if the kids could have something that the teacher could use an app for that could show them examples of braille? So this would be electronic. The braille would actually pop out, just like the refreshable braille display. So the students would be able to have a tactile example of whatever braille the teacher’s trying to teach them, and then they could practice it. It would also have auditory feedback.
Hopefully it could be programmed, too, so you could learn braille on your own. So you could buy this thing and anybody could learn braille by having it programmed so it could slowly teach you braille over time.
Awesome stuff, Daniel. You’ve got three different products with three different scopes for three different levels of users and three different price points. I cannot wait to see how they all go in the future.
Can you also share some of the challenges that you might have faced as you’ve been developing these products?
Well, obviously there’s money for development. Everything costs money nowadays. And these are great ideas. I’ve had a lot of positive feedback. But there’s also the naysayers, the people that are, “You’re never really going to do this,” or, “Somebody else is going to do it.” You have to ignore the naysayers and say that if it takes three million dollars to develop the TouchPad Pro, then eventually I’ll get the three million dollars. I’m not going to stop til I do. So that’s the way I got to look at it.
So you’re saying that money is basically the largest challenge you’ve had throughout this process of developing these products?
Mm-hmm (affirmative). The focus of my company is to try to get these to people who can’t afford it. Because that’s like where my students are at. My students, a lot of them live in Brooklyn and Queens and Bronx. They don’t have a lot of money. So when it comes to getting extra stuff, the families just can’t afford it. So with something like the BrailleDoodle, the school would be able to buy one for each one of the kids. It’s just that simple. So I’d really like to just get these to as many people as possible.
Great entrepreneurial spirit, Daniel. How can our listeners reach you?
Go to touchpadpro.org. And you just hit “contact us“.
Thank you, Daniel. To find this feature and many other great articles, visit the Cane EnAble page in the Beyond Sight online community, at boldlinebeauty.com. Thanks for listening.
- The featured image is a photo of Daniel Lubiner wearing a gray tee shirt. Text says “Art Teacher and Innovator”
- The featured image is the Beyond Sight Magazine cover. The same photo mentioned in the first bullet is on the cover. The masthead is teal with “Beyond Sight Magazine” in black text. The dot on the ‘i’ in ‘sight’ is the eye used for our 2020 Year of Vision Campaign (described HERE). The text for this feature says: “Daniel Lubiner Art teacher and Innovator | TouchPadPro.org Making Braille Literacy and Tactile Art Accessible and Affordable.” In the bottom right corner is a teal circle with an illustration of Abby Bold Blind Beauty’s fashion icon who is walking with her white cane in one hand and handbag in the other. She is wearing heels and a stylish dress made of panels resembling overlapping banana leaves. The dress panels gently curve from her nipped-in waist to just above the knee. She’s also sporting her signature explosive hairstyle and yellow text Cane EnAbled” is under the circle.
- Cover by Daniel Lubiner
- Interviewer Nasreen Bhutta
- Audio Production by Aaron Linson