About ELIA Frames™, braille & more.

Q1: Why does the ELIA Frames™ font look the way it does?

The ELIA Frames™ font was designed to incorporate familiar elements of the common standard (i.e. Roman) alphabet within a system of frames. The familiar elements make the font easy for people to learn. The frames accelerate learning, and enable readers to read the letters quickly and accurately. Similar engineering principles were used in creating Palm Pilot Graffiti.

Q2: At what size is the ELIA Frames™ font presented?

The ELIA Frames™ font uses frames that enable it to be scalable to any size, just like other fonts on your computer. Individual readers can read ELIA Frames™ at whatever size they choose.

Q3: Does the ELIA Frames™ font have contractions?

Not yet, but it will eventually. However, each reader will have the choice of using the contractions or not, as contractions save space and improve reading speed but add complexity. Studies suggest that contractions make braille more difficult to learn. While this may be true of braille for English, it is even more so for other roman alphabet languages. For example, to learn French braille, a student must learn 1217 abbreviations. This may be why few braille readers in the US know French or other foreign languages.

Q4: Why does braille look the way it does?

There are many theories on why Louis Braille designed his code the way he did. One belief is that he embraced the use of dots because they were the most technologically feasible and least expensive method of producing tactile texts using the technology of his day (1824). A major advantage of the braille code over alternative alphabets of his day was that blind persons could produce texts on their own with readily available inexpensive technology. Their independence from sighted helpers, expensive presses and complicated tools was a major advantage of the code over other tactile codes. Indeed, that the code could be arranged using inexpensive technology by the blind was a major advance. (We believe that if Louis Braille was alive today, he wouldn’t limit his invention solely to the use of dots, as technology allows for almost any design today).

Q5: How is print in the ELIA Frames™ font produced?

Presently, printed materials using the ELIA Frames™ font are produced one of two ways: either with a modified Xerox / Tektronix Phaser 300X Printer, which can print any text in tactile form from a computer onto standard paper; or, from a Hewlett Packard inkjet printer, which can print any text from a computer onto a special polystyrene paper and raised with a heating unit. Any electronic text or book can now be produced with ELIA Frames™.

ELIA Life Technology is currently developing an affordable tactile printer that will enable users to produce ELIA Frames™ or braille for individualized applications. In the future, ELIA will be developing and producing a tactile tablet. This tablet will be similar to mobile computer devices that the sighted presently use, except that the cells of the display screen will protract and retract from the surface of the table to create tactile images in ELIA Frames™ (or braille). The tactile tablet will enable visually impaired readers to access any computer text and carry volumes of information with them.

Q6: How will ELIA Frames™ and ELIA’s other new technologies benefit people who have a visual impairment, and society at large?

There are 8.4 million people who have a visual impairment in the United States alone. Our goal, in the creation of new technology and the ELIA Frames™ font, is to positively impact the lives of those 8.4 million people, by enabling them to maintain their literacy - and therefore live the full life that literacy affords. Full education, employment, and independence are by-products of literacy. We are neutral as to whether people use ELIA Frames, braille, or another resource to achieve literacy. And we are even hopeful that our research will enable braille users to read braille faster and with greater utility.

Our new technology aims to reduce barriers and improve accessibility by leapfrogging over existing solutions, to a new modern standard that is comparable to those of the sighted - easy, fast, and affordable.

With our tactile innovations, a person can maintain literacy and remain integrated into society. As evidenced by the high employment rates of braille readers, tactile information is a critical resource. Society will benefit from having 8.4 million people engaged to their fullest potential.

Visual impairment takes a huge toll on society. With ELIA Frames™, people who have a visual impairment will have a new tool with which to gain or retain employment. They will require less care from paid and unpaid caregivers. They will be able to independently maintain better health. They will be able to achieve greater academic success. Additionally, ELIA Frames™ readers will be able to better function within society because sighted co-workers, family members and friends will be able to easily read and understand ELIA Frames materials.

Q7: How will ELIA Frames™ benefit the families of people who have a visual impairment?

Unfortunately, while the elderly visually impaired population is increasing, the pool of available caregivers is decreasing.

Most people with a visual impairment who require assistance rely on an unpaid caregiver, who is a family member, spouse or friend. The toll on the caregiver is enormous, resulting in lower employment rates and wages, higher incidence of family conflict, and higher mortality rates. And 40% to 70% of family caregivers have symptoms of clinical depression (reference 1).

According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP (reference 2), caregivers spend an average of 20-40 hours per week providing care and 69% of caregivers report having to rearrange their work schedule, decrease their hours, and/or take an unpaid leave. They often suffer loss of wages, health insurance and other job benefits, retirement saving or investing, and Social Security benefits (reference 3).

Our goal is to enable caregivers to provide better care with fewer resources while their visually impaired family members enjoy the higher quality of life that greater independence brings. ELIA Frames can be used for independent reading, as well as labeling and organization around the home. The touch printer and tactile display will provide easy, affordable ways to produce tactile texts, graphics, and labels and access to online information.


  1. Zarit, S. (2006) Assessment of Family Caregivers: A Research Perspective in Family Caregiver Alliance (Eds.), Caregiver Assessment: Voices and Views from the Field. Report from a National Consensus Development Conference (Vol. II) (pp. 12-37). San Francisco: Family Caregiver Alliance.] - Updated: November 2012

  2. The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP (2009), Caregiving in the U.S: National Alliance for Caregiving. Washington, D.C.] - Updated: November 2012

  3. AARP Public Policy Institute 2008: Valuing the Invaluable: The Economic Value of Family Caregiving] - Updated: November 2012

Q8: How has ELIA Frames™ changed since its first design?

ELIA Frames™ has been refined in two ways since it was originally designed. The outside of the square frames have been altered slightly so that readers can more easily tell whether a frame is a square or a circle. While distinguishing between the two frame shapes is not difficult at large sizes, the distinction between the frames becomes more difficult as the letters are reduced in size. The other change in the font was that some of the letters' interiors were simplified and made more easily distinguishable from one another. For example, the two lines inside the "K" were moved from the far right of the frame to the far left. This improved accuracy for that letter by nearly 50%. Others were also altered to improve accuracy rates and recognition speed.

Q9: Where can someone learn ELIA Frames™?

If you are sighted, you can learn ELIA Frames™ on this site. If you are visually impaired, email ELIA Life Technology at info@theeliaidea.com and we will send you an introductory package with which you can learn the frames. If possible, we will arrange assistance as well.

Q10: What evidence is there that braille positively impacts the lives of those who use it?

Many braille users credit braille as one of the main reasons they are able to achieve high levels of independence, employment, continued literacy and psychological well-being (reference 1). Functioning is higher for braille readers who typically have little residual vision, than for non-braille readers with visual impairment but significant residual vision. Employment rates are one example of this phenomenon. Braille readers enjoy a higher estimated employment rate (85%) (reference 2) than people who do not read braille and have severe visual impairment (34%) or non-severe visual impairment (43%) (reference 3).

While degree of vision loss is highly correlated with the loss of functioning and employment, this strong trend within the visually impaired population does not extend to braille users, who typically have little or no residual vision and yet have higher employment rates than those with significantly less vision loss (but access to the same technology, except for braille). If ELIA Frames™ were utilized by people with a visual impairment who do not read braille, employment rates and independence could dramatically improve.


  1. Schroeder, F. (1989), Literacy: The key to opportunity, Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 83, 290-293.

  2. Library of Congress www.loc.gov/nls/other/futureofbraille.html

  3. Americans With Disabilities: 2010. By Matthew W. Brault, Issued July 2012 Brault, Matthew W., “Americans With Disabilities: 2010,” Current Population Reports, P70-131, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC, 2012. www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/p70-131.pdf

Q11: Have braille readers always represented such a small percentage of the visually impaired population?

As the demographics of the country have changed, so have the demographics of the visually impaired community. In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 9.8% of people over the age of 65 have a visual impairment (reference 1). Consequently, with the growth of the over 65 population, there has been a significant jump in the number of visually impaired seniors. These persons are the least likely to learn braille.

There are also more non-braille readers than ever before as braille literacy rates have been declining since 1963 (reference 2). This can be attributed to the mainstreaming of students with a visual impairment within our education system and to improvements in voice generation and audio technology. Also, with improved medical care, those who experience a mild visual impairment at a young age are now able to maintain the majority of their vision into adulthood. Unfortunately, they often find braille difficult to learn as an adult.


  1. Americans With Disabilities: 2010. By Matthew W. Brault, Issued July 2012 Brault, Matthew W., “Americans With Disabilities: 2010,” Current Population Reports, P70-131, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC, 2012. www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/p70-131.pdf

  2. The Braille Literacy Crisis in America: Facing the Truth, Reversing the Trend, Empowering the Blind. A Report to the Nation by the National Federation of the Blind. Jernigan Institute, March 26, 2009

Q12: Why can't people just learn and read braille?

For someone who was not born blind and who lost their vision after the age of 21, braille appears to be very difficult to learn, as evidenced by how few new users there are per year. Indeed, we estimate that of the more than 750,000 people who become visually impaired every year, there are fewer than 1,500 new braille readers each year (0.2%).

The reason so few people learn and read braille is uncertain. It may be because as people age, they are “at risk for being unable to learn braille because of their age-related loss of tactile acuity" (reference 1). It may be that with age it is more difficult to learn new skills, especially letter comparison and reading+. It may be that there is a lack of family support for individuals learning braille (reference 2). Why so few people read braille is not entirely certain, however, the reality is that 99% of people who lose their vision do not have a viable means by which to read newspapers, work related materials, magazines, bills, books, and labels on canned goods and pharmaceuticals.


  1. Legge, G.E., Madison, C., Vaughn, B.N., Cheong,A.M., and Miller, J.C. (2008). “Retention of high tactile acuity throughout the life span in blindness,” Percept Psychophys, vol. 70, no. 8, pp. 1471 1488. +Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2007). Understanding the Brain: The Birth of a Learning Science. OECD Publishing.
  2. The Future of Braille: NLS Braille Summit Presentations and Outcomes. Watertown, Massachusetts, June, 2013. Retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/nls/other/futureofbraille.html

Q13: Is there a need for an alternative to braille?

We believe there is. In the U.S. there are 8.4 million people who are visually impaired, of whom 2.1 million have a severely visual impairment (reference 1). Only 59,000 people in the U.S. are able to use braille (reference 2). For those who use braille, however, it provides enormous independence. Indeed, braille has “liberated a whole class of people from a condition of illiteracy and dependence. Braille makes it possible for a blind person to assume a role of equality in modern society, and it can unlock the potential within him to become a contributing member of society” (reference 3). Braille users are able to achieve higher employment rates and are able to advance further in their education than non-braille users. Unfortunately, it is apparent that many people who have a visual impairment are unable to read braille.


  1. Americans With Disabilities: 2010. By Matthew W. Brault, Issued July 2012 Brault, Matthew W., “Americans With Disabilities: 2010,” Current Population Reports, P70-131, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC, 2012. www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/p70-131.pdf
  2. Russell JN, Hendershot GE, LeClere F, Howie LJ, Adler M. Trends and Differential Use of Assistive Technology Devices: United States, 1994 Advance data from vital and health statistics; no. 292. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, 1997.
  3. Nemeth, A. (1988), Braille: The Agony and the Ecstasy, The Braille Monitor, 324-328.

Additional links: NCHS estimates on braille usage report in pdf format: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/ad/ad292.pdf

Q14: Why do people who have a visual impairment need a tactile font? Can't they use voice technology and audio books to do all their reading?

Voice technology and books on tape are essential tools for people who have a visual impairment. However, many activities cannot be accomplished by using such technology. For example, a teacher reading lecture notes to a class, or activities such as distinguishing between different medications and canned goods, and reading printed materials like a table of options cannot be efficiently accomplished through voice. Furthermore audio technology does not provide a means to literacy, leaving students who “rely solely on listening as a means of learning find themselves deficient in areas like spelling and composition” (reference 1). And clearly, a tactile font can result in increased independence in daily activities for people who lose their vision.


  1. Source: National Federation of the Blind www.nfb.org/images/nfb/documents/pdf/braille_literacy_report_web.pdf

Q15: What other tactile alphabets are available and how are they different from ELIA Frames™?

Aside from braille, there are other tactile systems, including the Moon Alphabet and the Fishburne Alphabet. The Moon Alphabet has been used in the U.K. since its invention in 1845. It is used primarily by people who lost vision later in life and find it easier to learn than braille. Like ELIA Frames, many of the Moon Alphabet letters share characteristics of the standard alphabet. Like braille, its design was influenced by what technology was available in the 1800’s and not necessarily by what symbols are easiest to learn and read. Each Moon symbol was produced with one of fourteen copper bands that were pressed into a piece of paper. As with braille, it was designed around the capabilities of the technology of the times (1845), not entirely around ease of learning and use.

The Fishburne Alphabet uses symbols on rectangular backgrounds similar to dominoes. The system divides the alphabet into five sections so that readers can use deductive reasoning to accurately read. It uses simple shapes that are not representative of the standard alphabet but that can be produced using a custom label maker. For more information on the Fishburne Alphabet contact: Fishburne Enterprises, 140 E. Stetson Ave., #319, Hemet, CA 92543-7139; phone: (909) 765-9276

Q16: Why didn't someone create the ELIA Frames™ font design before?

Prior to modern computer printers, printing a scalable font like ELIA Frames™ would have been expensive and difficult. Perhaps the limitations of past technology limited people's imaginations. Also, the field of Human Factors Engineering and Ergonomics is a new field that was only born 50 years ago and only gained momentum over the past 20 years. Perhaps the professionals in the field had not had time to apply their theories to tactile reading.

Q17: Will braille readers stop reading braille and start reading ELIA Frames™?

Braille readers will likely not change over to ELIA Frames™. Most braille readers have been reading braille for years, if not decades.

Q18: Will braille readers have less access to braille materials and aids if an alternative tactile font is introduced?

With a greater number of tactile readers, more aids and materials will be available for both braille and ELIA Frames™ readers. New production methods will be economically feasible because of the larger market. Additionally, new competition for tactile reading customers will improve the quality of the products and the responsiveness of the present companies in the field. All of our printers and tactile displays are being designed to support braille, so our work is likely to increase their access to braille materials, as well as graphical information that they currently cannot access.

Q19: Is ELIA Frames™ meant to replace braille?

No, braille will always be in use, as it is the most efficient way for braille readers to get important information. ELIA Frames™ is for those who choose not to or are unable to read braille.

The ELIA Frames™ font is for everyone in the world to use. It is free to all for personal use and for educational institutions. However, there is a nominal usage charge for businesses producing products for commercial revenues. A business can also apply for an exception to this rule with ELIA Life Technology.


If you have additional questions please let us know.