In 1829, Louis Braille published the first book introducing the braille system—and while the applications of braille have been immense, the system is designed around the outdated technologies of the 1800s.
We've created a modern, efficient alternative that's incredibly easy to learn for people who have a visual impairment.
ELIA letters—known as ELIA Frames—leverage modern printing technology and design principles to optimize each letter’s design and create easily identifiable characters. We based ELIA Frames on the standard Roman alphabet, since roughly 70% of the world’s population uses it to read and write.
Each ELIA Frame features an outer frame (circle, square, house) and interior elements that combine to form the main characteristics of standard alphabet letters.
Most of you looking at this page likely aren't visually impaired—but maybe you know someone who is. Or, perhaps you're a designer who believes in the mission and would like to support the campaign by taking home a poster. Either way, we need your help and support to share our message.
Braille: the current system
Braille has been described by Fred Schroeder as “liberating a whole class of people from a condition of illiteracy and dependency, and giving them the means for self-fulfillment and enrichment.” We couldn’t agree more—it is extremely important for those who can read it. However, braille has considerable shortcomings in the 21st century:
- Less than 1% of those who have a visual impairment can read braille.
- Of those who lose their vision as adults (roughly 98% of the population), very few learn braille—so it is not a viable resource for the vast majority of those who have lost their vision.
- Braille requires exceptional finger sensitivity and intellect, along with a lot of determination and time—it can take up to 10 months just to learn the alphabet.
ELIA: our modernized system
- About 200 million people with a visual impairment could benefit from ELIA in its current design, and another 85 million could benefit from it if customized to their standard scripts.
- Currently, the employment rate among individuals with visual impairment is at an estimated 43%. For those who read braille, that rate soars to 85%. ELIA can have the same benefit for the 99% who can't read braille.
- ELIA Frames can be learned tactilely in as little as 3 hours—and visually in a few minutes—since the font leverages a previously established alphabet.
How to read ELIA
Check out this sound clip from BBC Radio 4's In Touch Podcast with Peter White!
I’m a writer and so I work a lot with words and I’m quite interested in anything that’s going to help me read faster or read better. You mentioned when people later in life lose their sight and they lose the ability to drive or read a book, I think it will be enormously helpful for people who are older to be able to sit down and quickly begin to get information from a tactile system again...I had vision up until about the age of 12 or 13, so when I look at the O and the E and the T and the N, they’re quite recognizable. My wife is sighted and I showed it to her and within five minutes she could recognize words.
As someone who experienced vision loss as an adult, I immediately recognized Elia as a potential tool for those in need of accessing printed information. This led me to feature their story on my podcast. Learning to tactilely recognize the alphabet in less than an hour, along with the availability of multiple font sizes, I knew this system could be especially helpful to seniors in need of labeling household items. As an advocate for people with vision loss I am all for providing people with options that best suit their individual needs. ELIA Technologies is another tool to assist people with vision loss.
—Thomas Reid, Reid My Mind Radio
I tried to learn braille three times in my life. I learned the letters easily, but words were difficult for me and sentences really slowed me down. Learning the ELIA system took me only an afternoon. It’s an easier system than braille because it uses actual fragments of the letters of the alphabet that are placed in their own individual frames. I strongly believe that it could be helpful for people who can’t read braille.
Don’t ever quit Andrew. This alphabet is important to people who have lost their vision. It can help people remain independent. We fight to remain independent. Because if you lose your independence, then your privacy is threatened. If you lose your privacy, then your dignity is threatened.
—Elia Vallone (Andrew’s Grandmother, who inspired the creation of ELIA)
Our design process
To design the system, we created and tested hundreds of letter shapes and combinations of letter features. We prioritized the most easy-to-feel features, incorporated them in the most frequently used letters (e.g. the letter “E” is easier to feel than the letter “K”), and then tested those letter shapes to study which were most commonly confused with others.
The ELIA Frames letters are designed to be understood by touch for those who have a severe visual impairment, to be read by touch and sight for those who have modest visual impairment, and to be read visually by those who have full sight.
Our design partners
The original design for ELIA was created by our founder Andrew Chepaitis' mother. From there, Andrew, with help from graphic designer Ze Frank, developed the first frames font, and we then finalized the design of ELIA with our industrial designer, Reed DeWinter of Humanfactors Design Works.
Thanks to a collaboration with Order, we've been able to make ELIA as effective and beautiful as possible. Order is a design studio founded by Hamish Smyth and Jesse Reed, who has previously worked on communication design projects like the WalkNYC pedestrian wayfinding system, and Kickstarter’s redesign. Their team built upon our design work to leverage the essential parts with new tools, to help communicate our project in a clear, memorable, and unique way.
Order created the Roman alphabet ELIA font using the established ELIA Frames matrix for a cohesive, effective, gorgeous new identity.
Our founder Andrew was inspired to introduce ELIA after his grandmother started losing her sight from macular degeneration. A woman who could once finish the New York Times crossword puzzle, she found it difficult to learn braille—it was based on an entirely new system that she had no reference to.
That's when Andrew and his mother started thinking of a solution that built on his grandmother's skills, since her case wasn't unique—just 1% of the blind/Visually Impaired (VI) population is born without sight, with the rest losing sight later on in life. Andrew continued his mother's work through the next decade. Thirteen years later, he founded ELIA Life Technology.
Our team has since received support from the National Institute on Aging, the National Eye Institute (divisions of the National Institutes of Health), the National Institute for Standards and Technology, and NYSTAR. We've collaborated with Lighthouse Guild for the Blind in New York City and have a printing partnership with HP. We've tested our system with over 300 participants, running controlled studies comparing learning ELIA to learning braille or the raised Roman alphabet. We analyzed over 175,000 of the responses from research participants.
Now, we want to establish ELIA as a mainstream system that will connect people who have lost vision with the rest of society like never before. With this Kickstarter, we will update, streamline, and mass produce our printing technology.
Kickstarter is a great place to introduce a product, because it's a community of early adopters, innovators and creative thinkers. We're hoping this community will support our project by sharing it with those who actually need it most, and may not have access to this platform.
This Kickstarter will serve the most critical needs of people who have a visual impairment—enabling them to retain their literacy, live independently through labeling household items, and learn the skills needed for employment and workplace independence.
Again, your funding support will help us streamline and mass produce our printing technology. From there, we'll begin printing books in the ELIA Frames font, to be distributed to libraries and institutions across the US where readers will be able to read the texts and share them with their community. This will be the first step to establishing ELIA as a system across the country, and around the world.
Risks and challenges
With creating our product, there can always be unforeseen delays in the printing. However, we're pretty familiar with the process at this point and have worked closely with commercial printers, so we are confident we'll be able to deliver on time.
Should anything go awry, our backers here will be the first to know! Transparency is the name of the game.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (32 days)