Commentary: The Endless Possibilities of ‘Touchable’ Ink

Ink that can be touched seems like something out of a science fiction movie, but may soon be in the market. Developers at J. Walter Thompson Bangkok and Thammasat University in Thailand created what they call a “touchable ink” which dilates under certain thermal conditions, resulting in an embossed effect people can touch. The ink can print Braille and regular letters as well as other shapes and patterns. According to its developers, the ink works with normal paper on a standard printer. It is currently being tested by the Thailand Association for the Blind.

Without a doubt, Braille embossers and other special equipment to create tactile drawings can be incredibly expensive. A basic embosser that only prints Braille text costs around $2,000, while more sophisticated machines to produce raised drawings will cost upwards of $5,000. The special paper needed for these embossers is not readily available in local stores, and often costs more than standard paper. A single page of paper to create tactile drawings costs about a dollar. With such high costs, it’s no wonder many of us don’t have this technology in our homes.

Many blind children and adults around the world do not know how to read and write Braille because they simply cannot afford such pricy equipment. I often see news stories from underdeveloped countries that are seeking donations of Braille machines and other material. The schools for the blind in those countries have no or outdated equipment. I think that if the new ink became widely available, it would be sold at a low price and schools or other institutions could potentially afford it. Since it is supposed to work on a standard printer, they wouldn’t have to purchase expensive embossers. Of course, it’s too soon to know if or when that will happen.

I think that if successful, this ink has an enormous potential of assisting people with vision loss of all ages. Young students will have immediate access to worksheets and other class handouts in Braille. They would no longer have to wait for their teacher of the visually impaired to transcribe the material, since the classroom teacher could do it herself on a regular printer. It would also become much easier and cheaper to produce tactile drawings of shapes, animals, people, maps and virtually anything we can think of. In other words, this innovative product has the potential of changing how people who are blind visualize the world.

Although this so called “touchable ink” is still under development, the possibilities for its use are endless. Assuming this new ink reaches the market, it will significantly revolutionize how Braille and tactile drawings are produced. Special equipment or paper will no longer be needed, and that means that virtually anyone will be able to print Braille and other raised drawings. I sure cannot wait to literally get my hands on this new ink!

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