Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

New Authentication Method to Unlock Smartphones for Users with Vision Loss

by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern

Researchers at the University of Waterloo (Canada) and the Rochester Institute of Technology (United States) have announced the prototype of a new authentication method that can be used by people who are blind or visually impaired to unlock mobile devices. This method takes the form of an app called OneButtonPIN which allows the user to enter their passcode via a series of haptic vibrations that only they can detect. The user initiates it by pressing a large virtual button on the screen. OneButtonPIN responds by emitting pulsing vibrations. At that point the individual enters a number simply by releasing the button once the desired number of vibrations is felt and then presses the button again to enter the next number, and so on. When studying its effectiveness, the scientists found individuals who are blind and have low vision were five percent more accurate authenticating this way than with more traditional methods like entering passcodes, fingerprints, or face scans. In addtition, when sighted people were asked to guess PINs from watching videos of blind people entering them, they were able to guess some passcodes entered traditionally, but none could guess the code from watching a person using OneButtonPIN. Dr. Stacey Watson from the University of Waterloo commented on the idea that this app might even find use among the sighted, stating that: “‘While OneButtonPIN was designed for [blind and low-vision] people, many users will appreciate the added security. When we make things more accessible, we make things more usable for the average user as well.’” The app is not yet available, with no confirmation about a final release date as of this writing. Here is an announcement about it from NFCW Expo, and another article from the University of Waterloo.