Rashid's Story


Scroll down to read through the story from Rashid Aliyev’s perspective about how BrailleTeach™ came to be!

The man on the train

Over 20 years ago, when I was at university, I met someone who had lost his eyesight in his youth. Before this, I believed that blindness came from birth or, in rare cases, people lost their eyesight in old age. He knew that I was an inventor and came to me because he wanted to continue his education and be able to read braille books. He thought that I might be able to help him.

I started to do some research but found very limited options for braille reading devices. They were just too expensive for this man and he left University without being able to realize his hopes.

Years late, one of my friends asked me to help him with Electro-Active Polymer research. EAP is a chemical polymer that blends under high voltage. While helping him with this research, I discovered that I can use this EAP effect to create a tactile display, and understood that what I had started working on at home could become useful if I developed the technology.

After much trial and error, I had a prototype of a tactile display which could be tested! It was a simple set of 6 dots in the various configurations for letters and numbers. At this point, I was living in Ukraine for a time and started to look for local people who could test this EAP tactile display. During this period of research, I learned that there are very few people with BVI who can read in Braille. I could not believe it and thought it might be a Ukrainian problem but no, further research showed that only 10% of people with BVI around the globe can read and write in the Braille alphabet.

Once I understood the scale of the problem, I was committed to solving it. However, I was faced with the reality that, without building a user community, this was a niche market filled with big giants selling expensive products, and I would not be able to enter this market and use my skills to help more people…

From this day, the “Braille Teach” idea appeared, and by chance!

One day, back in 2016, I was traveling by train from Kyiv (Ukraine) to the suburbs, and one person entered the carriage and sat in front of me. We greeted each other and he turned to look out of the window. He was wearing black sunglasses, even though it was not sunny that day. He then turned to me and said “Dawn is earlier, but isn’t this city still beautiful?”

I looked out of the window and replied “Yes, Kyiv is a beautiful and green city. I agree with you.” Then I pointed to a big statue in the city which could be seen from almost any part of the city and asked “Is this statue (Rodina-Mat’) made of metal? It’s sparkling in the light”. And he replied, “I don’t know, unfortunately, I can’t say anything about it.”

I asked again: “Why? Don’t you see those flashes on the metal?”
He replied: “Unfortunately, no. I can’t see it anymore.”
Me: Anymore? Stop, what do you mean?
He: Sorry man, but, I lost my eyesight a few years ago.
Me: Hmm. I am really sorry! I did not realise.
He: Don’t worry, man. It’s strange. Strange because you are living your life and then, one day, the doctors say that your eyes need to be removed. Removed! Both! Oh…
I asked with a muted voice: “What happened? Your eyes were removed?”

"Yes I know Braille!"

I interrupted him and replied: – “Yes. I know Braille! I’ve been trying to make a device for blind people to help them surf the internet. But then I stopped. Research shows that only a small number of blind people can use Braille.”

He: – “Yes! You see! They try to teach us by using balls and other things but it’s hard to remember. You make many mistakes and nobody corrects you. Or when they try, you become nervous!”

Me: – I fully understand you.
Me: – Are there any interactive devices to easily learn braille?
He: – Teachers say there are some but they are expensive. We can’t afford to buy them.
Me: – Great! It means there is some hope! What if there will be such interactive devices that are affordable and mobile? Will you use them?
He: – Definitely yes!
Me: – You gave me a great idea! Thank you!

And at this moment, the next station’s name was announced.
He said “It was nice to meet you, but I need to hop off. It’s my station.” We said goodbye to each other and he left.

On that day, after reaching my destination, I thought a lot about him and his problem. I started new research for existing products in the market, their prices, functions, selling points and so on. I found a lot of information about solutions. I found their prices and methodologies. Then I went to some centers for people with BVI in Ukraine to talk about my ideas. I found a local team in Ukraine and, with them, we started making the first prototype of BrailleTeach.

And so the BrailleTeach story began – developing and redeveloping, almost bankrupting my family to make it, testing and retesting, finding Gwen to join me this is a long story to share!”

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