If you’re a blind Android user, you’re bound to have come across Steve Nutt at Computer Room Services. He’s blind himself, been in the accessible smartphone business for over 20 years, and has a vast amount of knowledge and experience when it comes to using smartphones with braille displays.
We’re delighted that he joined us on Tuesday 18 May to present an introduction to using an Android device with a braille display. He covered which braille displays work with Android, how to connect them, how to navigate the operating system, other key concepts, and how to use braille input.
You don’t have to have been in the blindness community very long to have come across HumanWare and their two flagship brands: Victor Reader and BrailleNote. Indeed, on the second episode of this podcast, we talked extensively about the BrailleNote Touch, which has since been succeeded by the BrailleNote Touch Plus.
BrailleNote is not the company’s only line of braille product, though. In 2003, thanks to an agreement with Baum, HumanWare launched its Brailliant line of refreshable braille displays. A braille input keyboard was added in 2011 and now, ten years on, the stakes have been raised still further with the launch of their most recent innovation, the Brailliant BI20X and BI40X.
The 20-cell and 40-cell displays have been shipping since mid-February, and a significant software update was released towards the start of May. Software version 1.1.1 also applies to the Mantis Q40 and Chameleon 20, which were released last summer and manufactured by HumanWare in partnership with the American Printing House for the Blind.
To discover more about this exciting new range of braille displays, and the new software update, we’re joined by HumanWare’s Andrew Flatres, Braille Product Manager; and Martin Roberts, Blindness Product Specialist for the UK.
We’re starting to hear more and more about BRF files. They’re the default braille format on platforms such as RNIB Reading Services; they’re regularly used in the transcription industry to share braille versions of documents between producers; and notetaker users have used them to transfer files from one brand of braille device to another. But questions still prevail:
What, exactly, is a BRF?
Why would you use BRF files over more mainstream file formats?
What are the limitations of BRF?
How do you read BRF files?
How do you navigate through them?
How do you create them?
Matthew Horspool answered all these questions and more on Tuesday 4 May.
We were delighted to be joined by renowned braille display expert Jackie Brown. Jackie is a freelance writer, regular reviewer of braille technology, and author of “Braille ON Display” (published by Mosen Consulting), a comprehensive comparison of braile displays and guide to choosing the right one.
On Tuesday 20 April 2021, Jackie talked us through the process of choosing a braille display. She outlined which factors to consider and why, and the key features of the braille displays which are currently on the market. If you’ve ever wondered “Which braille display is the best one?” you are sure to have the answer at the end of this session.
More recently, in his role as Associate Professor of Linguistics at Rice University, he has begun to tackle misconceptions around how students learn to read and write braille from the perspective of the cognitive sciences, with a large research project due to be completed in 2024.
Everette is a member of the Board of Directors of NFB and President of the Utah State Division. He told us how he has personally pushed to make assistive technology more widely available and explained the kinds of resources and programmes that NFB provides for its members, including the work it has done to promote equality of distance learning for blind students during lockdown. We also heard about some of the most exciting projects NFB has supported through the Dr Jacob Bolotin Award.
In September 2017, Ed Rogers, Managing Director of Bristol Braille Technology CIC and himself a Fellow of WCMT, undertook a four-week trip around India to discover more about braille usage in that part of the world and to ask the question: What can we in Britain learn from the Indian experience with braille? The trip was well-documented at the time on the Braillists Forum, was presented in a paper at the CSUN conference in 2018, and subsequently reported back to WCMT.
Nearly four years on, the findings from that trip are continuing to shape the activities of the Braillists Foundation. We recently discovered an unpublished recording of Ed’s CSUN presentation in our archives, and are delighted to be able to present it on this episode of Braillecast, with apologies for the small amount of interference which can be heard from time to time.
RNIB, which operates one of Europe’s largest braille lending libraries, has recently announced changes to the way books will be produced from April 2021. Since the announcement, there has naturally been much discussion about what these changes will mean for braille readers in the UK and around the world.
The Braillists Foundation and colleagues from RNIB explored these changes and answered questions from the public on Tuesday 23 March.
RNIB Braille Library – important update
Dear RNIB Braille Library Customer,
I am writing to let you know that from April 2021, RNIB’s Braille Library will be upgraded to offer Braille Library books on demand, a new personalised braille reading service designed to substantially increase access to hardcopy braille books for readers across the UK.
While you do not need to take any action to benefit from the new service, I want to share some of the changes you will notice in the coming months.
You will begin receiving freshly produced pristine Braille Library books that are recyclable. Your braille books will be more hygienic as you will be the first person to read them. Plus, your book is much less likely to be damaged or unreadable due to squashed dots. You will have access to a larger braille collection delivered straight to your door free of charge.
You will notice Braille Library books will be a more convenient format that will fit through more letterboxes, is easier to store and carry around. The smaller lighter volumes are much more comfortable for children and anyone with physical difficulties handling older heavier books.
Braille Library books on demand also means books are never out of stock. You will no longer need to wait for another Braille Library member to return a book you have requested. Multiple readers can receive copies of the same title simultaneously, ideal to meet shifting demand for new releases, best sellers and prize winners while preserving access to rarer books of special interest.
If you are already an RNIB Braille Library member, you will start receiving books in the new format automatically. You can continue to manage your book lists online or over the phone. You can change how often you receive books. If you manage a Braille Library membership on behalf of someone else, you can continue getting support via the RNIB Helpline or manage booklists online.
Unlike traditional library books, Braille Library on demand books are designed to be recycled and should not be returned. You can keep books for as long as you need them. You can also share your books with other braille readers.
As passionate readers ourselves, we appreciate braille is a vital literacy medium for tens of thousands of readers across the UK. Sadly however, the Braille Library in its current form is increasingly out of date and excludes some readers.
Large parts of our current collection are in old braille formats unsuitable for new braille readers. Many books are rarely borrowed, most of our collection has not left the warehouse in the past two years. Braille books occupy miles of shelving that is complex and expensive to maintain.
Older braille library books are bulky, heavy, and difficult for some readers to return. These books exclude some readers, especially those with physical difficulties.
After careful research and evaluation of braille library services around the world, we have found producing braille library books on demand offers the best opportunity for sustainable access to hardcopy braille for the widest number of readers for as long as is needed.
Please be assured that older books in our warehouse will be donated to customers and schools in the UK. We will then donate books to our sister organisations overseas. If there is a particular book you would like to keep, please contact the library with your request.
Special braille items of cultural significance will be preserved as part of RNIB’s Heritage collection based in London.
Children who would like to keep a few favourite braille books in the old format are welcome to do so and we can arrange this by calling RNIB’s Helpline on 0303 123 9999, or via email [email protected] although they may find the new format easier to hold and read.
Combined with RNIB’s growing collection of electronic braille library books available to you on an SD memory card and download from our website, the braille library upgrade represents a renewed commitment to braille literacy and offers readers greater choice than ever before. In 2020 RNIB invested over £100,000 in providing electronic braille equipment and books to meet changing reader requirements. However, we recognise the continued value of hardcopy braille for many and plan to offer both services in parallel. However, if you would like to explore also receiving books electronically please contact the library.
If you have any questions about the Braille Library, please call our Helpline on 0303 123 9999 or email us at [email protected].
RNIB Reading Services Manager
This session talked through advocacy strategies that you can use to facilitate access to braille in the wider world. This includes having healthcare and other personal communication sent to you in braille, as well as advocating for braille signage in public places.