Have you ever thought about all the products that are out there that enable you to read and write using Braille?
Alice, our Digital Communications Officer, is a keen Braille user, who is totally blind and has been reading and writing using Braille since the age of three. Alice has used a variety of Braille products, from the Perkins Brailler developed in the 1940s, to the Hable One, a brand new piece of technology for this decade.
Read on as Alice takes you on her Braille journey, explaining all the products she has used and how they have benefited her.
An Introduction to Alice and Braille
I’m Alice, Henshaws’s Digital Communications Officer. I am also a Braille user, who has been using Braille since the age of three. Braille has transformed my independence, and is my way of reading. Braille has enabled me to independently access and participate in education, and subsequently carry out a job efficiently.
Throughout my lifetime, I have used a variety of Braille products: the Perkins Brailler, the refreshable Braille display and notetaker, Braille Screen Input on the iPhone and iPad, and the Hable One. Below I talk about each product: what it is used for, and how I use it to read and/or write Braille.
The Perkins Brailler allows you to write Braille onto paper – essentially, it is a Braille typewriter.
This is the first product I used as a Braille user. I used this throughout my education, especially for subjects like Mathematics and languages. For the majority of subjects, I would type on a laptop, but for subjects like Mathematics, it made more sense to use a Perkins Brailler due to the specialist Braille codes, and symbols used, and the need to access a lot of information at once, which is much easier when the Braille is on paper.
Since leaving education, I have no longer had any need to use a Perkins brailler, so I am a little rusty, and have to give it more thought when I am using it.
I now prefer to use more high-tech methods of accessing Braille, which I discuss below.
Braille display and notetaker
The Braille display connects to devices including laptops, tablets, smartphones, and the Apple Watch, and enables you to read what is on the screen using Braille, as well as control and navigate the device.
I started using this in 2011, so for a period of time, I used a Braille display and a Perkins brailler as both were useful pieces of equipment throughout my education.
Using a Braille display means I no longer have to listen to my screen reader all the time; you need a screen reader enabled for a Braille display to work, but you don’t need to be listening to it all the time.
This means that I am able to access devices, whilst also being able to listen to, and participate in, other activities such as discussions with colleagues in the workplace.
The Braille display also allows me to proofread text without adjusting my screen reader’s punctuation settings, and deliver presentations more independently.
You can also purchase Braille notetakers, which can be used as standalone devices, so no need to connect it to your other devices.
Braille notetakers range in functionality, but many have features including a Word Processor, web browser and email client.
I own a Braille notetaker, but more often than not, I use a Braille display in conjunction with my laptop, phone and iPad.
There are various makes of Braille display, so do your research to work out what is best for you.
Braille Screen Input
Braille Screen Input is a feature of VoiceOver on iOS and iPad OS, enabling you to input text using Braille gestures. The feature is enabled via the VoiceOver rotor.
While it took me a bit to get to grips with Braille Screen Input, it has now become one of my go-to methods for typing on the iPhone and iPad, as it means I can type fast and accurately, without the need for any external devices such as a Bluetooth keyboard.
I have always found typing on an iPhone slow when using the iPhone’s on-screen QWERTY keyboard, so Braille Screen Input is a quick way for me to type, without me having to use any other devices.
As well as inputting text, Braille Screen Input can be used to find and open apps on your home screen, and navigate elements of web pages including headings and links.
There is a fantastic AppleVis article which details how to set up and use Braille Screen Input, a great resource if you want to learn more.
The Hable One is a brand new piece of Braille technology. The Hable One is a portable Braille keyboard (smaller than most smartphones) which enables you to type using Braille commands, and also navigate and access your phone.
The Hable One is a great product for people who like to type using Braille, and/or access and navigate their phone without relying on touchscreen gestures.
Thanks to its portability, if you purely rely on VoiceOver or TalkBack, you could use the Hable One to access your smartphone without the phone leaving your pocket or bag – you would of course need a pair of headphones or earphones to be able to hear the screen reader.
The Hable One also provides vibrations and haptic feedback, to indicate functions have been activated. The Hable One will vibrate twice wen you power it on, and a third time once it is connected to your preferred device. Vibrations are also used to indicate activation of certain functions, and to confirm when you have pressed Dot 6 (the Braille capital indicator), confirming the next letter you type will be a capital letter.
Personally, as the Hable One command structure was completely new to me, I found it very useful to refer to the user manual when getting to grips with it. There are two Hable One user manuals: one for iOS and one for Android.
Visit the official Hable One website for more information, and to download the user manuals.
This is just my Braille journey – every Braille user’s Braille journey will be different. At the end of the day, it’s all about choice!
What Braille kit you choose to use will depend on your tech know-how, your lifestyle and ultimately, what you find works for you.
If you want to know more about my Braille journey, watch the video below, as I talk to Mark about each piece of kit more in-depth.