Smartphone more accessible for visually impaired thanks to Hable One

9 augustus 2021 15:17

The Eindhoven-based start-up Hable wants to conquer the world with a device that enables the blind and visually impaired to control their smartphones using Braille. The Hable One is available as of June 2021.

Hable One

There are roughly 76,000 blind people living in the Netherlands. Globally, some 285 million people are blind or visually impaired – and they, too, want to be able to use smartphones. Some tools do offer solutions, but they are not very user friendly. These include a large (or too-large) keyboard or the speech function built into a smartphone. The speech function is a great way to listen to messages, but sending voice messages is more difficult – especially when sitting in a crowded train. Eindhoven-based start-up Hable thinks there must be a better way. The entrepreneurs have developed a special keyboard that works with universal Braille. “We started building a working prototype about three years ago, and the first units will be delivered to a few hundred customers in June. After that, we will roll it out internationally.”

Freek van Welsenis, co-founder of Hable, explains how the Eindhoven-based invention works: “The Hable One works using Braille and can be connected to your smartphone through Bluetooth. The blind and visually impaired can use the device to type on and navigate their way around their smartphone. The keyboard has six Braille dots and two function keys. The six keys allow them to type all letters, numbers and punctuation marks in Braille. With the two function keys, the user can operate the phone using VoiceOver and TalkBack software. This software is incorporated into all smartphones and ensures that all actions are spoken for the user. The user can keep the smartphone in their bag or pocket while calling or apping.”

Extensive testing

The device has now been tested by hundreds of people. “That testing phase was extremely important for us. In the end, it’s all about the users. They need to experience that the Hable One does what we say it can do.” Freek says that the initial feedback has been very positive. “The Hable One enables the visually impaired to do everything that non-visually impaired people can do. Often, the keyboard works even faster than an ordinary touchscreen.”

Confidence

Developing the Hable One has required a lot of time and money. “We invested our own savings in this product, but that’s not enough. That’s why we’re so pleased that Rabobank has helped us with the Rabo Innovation Loan. The money was very welcome, of course, but Rabobank's commitment was perhaps even more important. Since the bank expressed its confidence, more investors have followed suit.”

Launch

Michel Ziekman is a start-up and scale-up banker at Rabobank. He explains why he believes in the Eindhoven-based start-up. “The social impact of this product is huge. I liked the idea so much that I even helped optimize their business plan. The Rabo Innovation Loan is intended for special initiatives, and this is definitely one of them! It’s great that Rabobank can contribute to it.”

Although the product is not on the market yet, Freek is already thinking about the future. “Currently, we are focusing primarily on people who are blind or very visually impaired. In the future, we want to explore solutions for people with more moderate visual impairments. That’s a completely different market, and one in which we can help many more people.”