This Tactile Pregnancy Test Offers Much-Needed Privacy to People With Visual Impairments

A woman touching a tactile pregnancy test with raised bumps to indicate a positive result.
Screenshot: RNIB

Pregnancy tests these days can get surprisingly high tech—and may even be rigged to play Doom. It’s also an unfortunate reality that these high-tech tests aren’t always accessible for the visually impaired. Because most rely on digital screens, blind or partially sighted people often have to ask someone else to read their results for them—which is obviously not great for privacy and can leave folks vulnerable to comment or judgment. In an attempt to address this problem, the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has crafted a nifty prototype for a tactile pregnancy test.

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The prototype is part of RNIB’s Design For Everyone campaign, which calls for more inclusive, accessible design in everyday life. The way the tactile prototype functions is similar to how current pregnancy tests work. Digital pregnancy tests generally involve peeing on a stick, which then results in one or two lines showing up based on whether there’s enough hCG—the pregnancy hormone. Those lines are then read by an optical sensor that then displays a clear Yes or No result on an LCD screen.

The prototype would have the same optical sensor tech as other digital pregnancy tests; the difference is this test delivers “mechanical” results instead of a visual. When a positive result is detected, bumps appear on the tactile pad on the top of the device.

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The tactile pad isn’t the only part of the prototype designed for people with visual impairments. There’s also a raised, bumpy control button that’s located on the bottom of the device so there’s no confusion as to which tactile pad does what. It’s also brightly colored, so those with partial vision can see it more easily. The test also features different textured surfaces and a 50% bigger tip so it’s easier to navigate by touch.

According to the RNIB, there are 2 million women of childbearing age with sight loss in Europe, the U.S., and China. Not all of them have completely lost their vision—some participants in RNIB’s research noted they were able to see some elements of the test, which is why the prototype has bright, contrasting colors. The RNIB also notes that simply adding larger results screens and enhancing color contrast could dramatically improve current digital pregnancy tests.

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The main benefit of a tactile pregnancy test is to allow users with visual impairments to be the first ones to know their results, which would protect their privacy.

“Most have relied on family members to reveal the result,” the RNIB’s report said. “However some had been forced to look to neighbors and more distant friends.”

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The research also notes that there are anonymous tech solutions, such as the Be My Eyes app, which connects visually impaired users with sighted volunteers. That particular app has a partnership with Clearblue, a pregnancy test maker, so that results can be read by a trained advisor.

While clever, that solution still doesn’t solve the privacy problem. You still have to involve a stranger in what can be an intensely intimate moment. There’s a wide range of circumstances that a person might be taking a pregnancy test—and sometimes the last thing you want is the “innocuous” commentary of a stranger, no matter how well-meaning they might be. For instance, if you’re experiencing an unwanted pregnancy scare, it’s reasonable that you wouldn’t want anyone around. Or, if you do want to have a child and the result is negative, you should have the right to not have to deal with anyone in that moment.

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For now, the tactile test remains a prototype until someone decides to make a commercially available option. To that end, RNIB has publicly posted the CAD design for its prototype should anyone want to hit the ground running. That said, outside of accessibility reasons, digital pregnancy tests are in dire need of a redesign. On top of the misconception that they’re more accurate—they’re not; they use the same testing mechanisms as their “dumber” counterparts—they also cost significantly more. And if people have to pay more for accessibility and accuracy in a product, it’s not truly “accessible.” Good product design means everyone should be able to use it intuitively, accurately, and affordably. By that measure, no pregnancy test is particularly well-designed, let alone accessible.

Consumer tech reporter by day, danger noodle by night. No, I'm not the K-Pop star.

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