A New Language Could Help Bring Comic Books to the Blind

Thanks to advances both high- and low-tech, more experiences previously inaccessible to the blind are now moving within reach: This past spring, for example, Twitter added a feature that translates tweets into Braille or audio text; an iPad app makes it possible to type emails in Braille from a tablet; and visually impaired kids have their own picture books, with images printed in 3-D beneath Braille words.

But there are still some pockets of sighted life that neither Braille nor text-to-speech technology can reach. One of them is comic books: Words, whether spoken or Braille, can describe setting and action and dialogue, but they can’t fully convey what it’s like to read a comic.

“Comic books have a language,” says comic artist Ilan Manouach. “They have specific devices” to convey certain actions or emotions, like “a lightbulb, [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][or] a drop of sweat,” that get lost when a visual story is translated into a fully language-based one.

But Manouach believes he’s found a way to overcome that particular hurdle: His latest project is Shapereader, a tactile language designed to give the blind their own comic books. Unlike Braille, it’s rendered in visuals rather than letters and words: Shapereader is made up of 210 “tactigrams,” distinct textures that each evoke a different person, action, emotion, or other story element. “Dogsled,” for example, is a series of interlocking diamonds; “to rest” is a pattern that looks a little like wheat; “anxiety” is a zigzag; one character is represented by a patch of horizontal lines. (You can check out more tactigrams on the project’s home page.)

Read more: NY Magazine[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]