Recently there has been a great deal of discussion in the news regarding braille and its use, or lack thereof. The storyline is that since screen reading software is available for computers and mobile devices, braille is in decline. the reason given is that listening will convey the same information that reading braille does. This reasoning baffles me because if you asked a print reader if they would be willing to forego reading and only gather their information using auditory means, tell me dear reader, what do you think the response would be to that?
Ah, now that I got my rant out of the way let's move on.
Working in braille today has certainly evolved, and one of the reasons is technology. Sound familiar? Yes, technology is everywhere. When computers first became accessible to people with vision loss, it was through braille output, and screen magnification software. Screen readers followed shortly thereafter and the speech sounded very robotic back then. Definitely not a natural speaking voice. I may write a separate blog post on the history of access technology used by blind and low vision users. But let's finish this one first. <grin>
One of the main ways people are using braille today is on a mobile device. It is much faster than using the phone itself to text message, particularly if you are using a touch screen phone. And you can work silently if you wish, without the screen reader speaking in your ears. Not to mention if you are a deafblind user of this technology braille is the only way to go.
It is important to point out that not all braille displays work on all mobile platforms and phones. So if you already have a phone or braille display, be sure to check that they will pair blissfully together. If you have an Apple device, Apple has provided a list of displays that work with their products. You can check it out here.
What should you look for when deciding which braille device to purchase? It depends on how and where you plan to use it. Here are some basic things to keep in mind when deciding which display is right for you.
portability : If you want your braille to go where your phone does, then this feature is a must. There are several sizes of braille displays ranging from 12 to 40 cells. If you plan to carry it with you on your travels, smaller is probably better. 12 will get you a phone number without scrolling the display and that's about it. It comes down to how many cells you can't live without. In my case, I know I can't settle for less than 18. This is coming from a place where I swore I'd never go below 40 cells. Going mobile changed all that for me.
Bluetooth connectivity: The device should connect reliably with no fuss or re-entering a pin code each time you connect it.
USB Connection: If you want to use your shiny new display with a Mac or PC via USb cable, then you'll need a USb port on the display.
Braille Input: If you plan to text message or access mail on your mobile phone this makes the process much more efficient and faster too!
What's on the horizon for braille users? There are some new cool displays coming on the market to take advantage of the mobile platform smart phone technology.
The Perkins Mini, from the designers of the original Perkins Brailler, and the focus 14 from Freedom Scientific. As mentioned, these are not out yet so keep a watchful eye on the braille marketplace for their release.
Until my next post. Happy reading all in whatever medium you choose.