Braille Displays and Other Products from Computer Room Services (Episode 30)

/

How many listeners remember Talks? The popular screen reader for Series 60 and other phones running the Symbian operating system. It first came to the market in the early 2000s, and perhaps its most well-known proponent in the UK was Steve Nutt, the man behind Computer Room Services. His expertise when it comes to mobile phones is unparalleled and, unphased by the slow demise of Symbian, he’s now just as well-known for his knowledge of Android.

There’s more to Steve than phones though. His company offers assistive technology training and consultancy; braille transcription; and sells a wide range of products including digital audio recorders, talking gadgets, talking book machines, speech synthesizers and other assistive software and, most notably for this podcast, an assortment of braille products. In addition to flagship displays from VisioBraille and Esys, he also sells the full range of leather cases from Executive Products, including a case for the popular Orbit Reader 20.

Call Computer Room Services: 01438 742286

Also In This Episode

Everything you Ever Wanted to Know about Teaching Braille but were Too Scared to Ask (Episode 29)

/

“Most of us who know braille were taught it.” It sounds like such an obvious statement – so obvious, in fact, that it seems appropriate to conclude that the world has an abundance of braille teachers, and the methods and techniques that they use are mature, uniform and understood by everyone working in the field. Presumably, approaches that work well have been iterated over time, those that haven’t worked so well have been abandoned, and the entire process has been well-documented so that future teachers can learn from the mistakes of the past.

The reality is less clearly defined, although certain concepts which have withstood the test of time especially well have become accepted as common knowledge. Pre-braille skills, for instance, feature regularly in discussions about teaching braille, as do the differences between learning braille by touch and by sight and teaching braille to children and adults.

On Tuesday 29 June 2021, we explored this topic in more detail in a live panel discussion with three braille teachers:

  • Kirsten Roberts is a life-long braille user, a Qualified Teacher of the Visually Impaired (QTVI), and Deputy Braille Tutor for the Mandatory Qualification for Teachers of Children and Young People with Vision Impairments offered at the University of Birmingham. In addition to her university work, she regularly teaches braille to both primary and secondary-aged children.
  • Christine Williams recently retired from Exhall Grange Specialist School and Science College in Coventry, where she held the post of Lead Teacher of the Visually Impaired. In that capacity, she taught braille not only to the pupils at Exhall Grange, but also peripatetically to pupils of all ages in mainstream schools throughout Warwickshire (via the Vision Support Service). Prior to this, she taught French at Exhall Grange for a number of years, where braille also played a significant role. In her retirement, she teaches braille voluntarily at Coventry Resource Centre for the Blind, predominantly to adults who are losing or in danger of losing their sight.
  • Melanie Pritchard has an extensive background in teaching braille to adults, either with visual impairments themselves or who are sighted friends or relatives of people with a visual impairment. Most recently, she taught the Braille For Beginners course remotely for the Braillists Foundation.

Resources Mentioned in this Episode

Xia Leon Sloane on Studying Composition and a Commission for the BBC Proms (Episode 28)

/

We’re almost exactly a month away from the opening night of the BBC Proms, the world famous summer season of concerts of classical music founded in 1895. Since their infancy, they’ve championed the composition and performance of new works of music through various channels including, latterly, the BBC Young Composer competition.

In 2018, one of the winners of this competition was blind composer Xia Leon Sloane, who describe themselves as “a writer of words and music, with a particular interest in the way that art can respond to political and ecological ideas”. Their choral piece, Earthward, subsequently received its world premier by vocal ensemble VOCES8 at a prom at Cadogan Hall on 22 July 2019.

In addition to the BBC Young Composer competition, they’ve won The Cambridge Young Composer of the Year, The Joan Weller Composition Prize, The Humphrey Searle<>/a> Composition Award and the Royal Philharmonic Society/Classic FM 25th Birthday commissions. They’ve also composed with Aldeburgh Young Musicians, The National Youth Orchestra and the Britten Sinfonia Academy.

Xia first undertook composition lessons at the age of 12 and, at time of publication, they’ve just finished their final year of undergraduate study at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. Much of their composition emerges from their spiritual practice and their own responses to world affairs.

Blind since the age of 2, they’re an advanced braillist and a prolific user of braille music. We spoke with them in February about their braille music journey, and what it was like to have a score that originated in braille performed by sighted musicians in front of a live audience of nearly a thousand, and a radio audience of hundreds of thousands more.

The Clearvision Project and the Typhlo and Tactus International Tactile Book Competition (Episode 27)

/

Parents reading with their children: it’s an experience common to many households in virtually every country of the world. It’s a uniquely special experience for both the parent and the child, remembered for years to come, and often relived as children become parents themselves, and parents become grandparents.

For many blind people in the UK, it’s been facilitated for decades by the Clearvision project and its collection of over 14,000 books, each designed in such a way as to simultaneously enable blind and sighted people to read and enjoy them.

It’s been directed since 2013 by Alexandra Britten, and she joined me on the podcast to tell me more about the project and its involvement with a competition to find the world’s best tactile book.

Contact Clearvision

Email: [email protected]

Telephone: 0208 789 9575

New Braille Displays and Firmware Updates from HumanWare (Episode 26)

/

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.

Notes

To join the Brailliant BI X Users list, send a blank email to: [email protected]

If you have trouble subscribing, email [email protected]

To express your interest in beta testing new software from HumanWare, please fill out this Google form.

To contact HumanWare in the UK, call 01933 415 800 or email [email protected]

Dr Robert Englebretson on the International Phonetic Alphabet (Episode 25)

/

Based in Houston, Texas, Dr Robert Englebretson is widely recognised for his contribution to braille research. In 2008, his work on updating the Braille International Phonetic Alphabet was published by the International Council on English Braille, and in 2019 the Braille Authority of North America made him a recipient of the Darleen Bogart Braille Excellence Award in recognition of this work.

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.

On Friday 3 June, we caught up with Robert as part of our series of Stay Safe: Stay Connected conference calls, and we started by asking him to describe the International Phonetic Alphabet.

Links of Interest

Ed Rogers on Braille in Southern India (Episode 24)

/

If you’ve been following Braillists Foundation events recently, you’ll be aware that we’ve been hosting a number of sessions thanks to a grant from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. But why is the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust interested in the Braillists Foundation?

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.

Download Ed’s full report in PDF format.

Judy Dixon on Braille, More Braille, and the World’s Largest Collection of Slates and Styluses (Episode 23)







/

Judy Dixon is something of a braille icon. She is Consumer Relations Officer at the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled, part of the Library of Congress in the United States; President of the International Council on English Braille; and has written a myriad of books for National Braille Press relating to braille and assistive technology. She also owns what is widely considered to be the largest collection of braille slates and styluses, containing over 280 unique designs.

On Friday 7 August 2020, the Braillists Foundation joined the dots on Judy’s incredible story as part of its series of Stay Safe: Stay Connected calls. This episode is an archive of that call.

A Celebration of World Braille Day (Episode 22)







/

On 4 January, people across the world celebrated World Braille Day. This day, which marks the birthday of Louis Braille, is an important one for blind people and those connected to the blind community, so the Braillists Foundation couldn’t let it pass without recognising it and the significance of braille.

The Foundation hosted a panel discussion, inviting three braille users to speak about their lives with braille. More importantly, perhaps, they also shared their thoughts on how braille may adapt to the changing needs of the blind community in future.

The session also included a short audio presentation sharing the voices and perspectives of braille users from around the world, from the UK all the way to New Zealand.

We would like to extend our thanks to the Braillists Foundation for allowing us to publish this recording, and to the three excellent panelists for giving up their time to be part of the session:

Stephen Anderson on the Louis Braille Museum, and Should Partially Sighted People Learn Braille? (Episode 21)







/

Happy new year, and happy World Braille Day! Today (4 January 2021) is the 212th birthday of Louis Braille, inventor of the code that revolutionised literacy for blind people all over the world. In spite of intense opposition in Louis Braille’s lifetime, the code has been adapted for use in dozens of languages and disciplines and is widely recognised throughout the world as the most effective means by which blind people can read and write. There’s even a braille chess code!

But what about people who are partially sighted, who can just about read print if it’s large enough? Stephen Anderson is one such person: a self-certified “Braille Muggle”, he’s the proud owner of an honours degree in Politics from the University of Leicester, a fluent French-speaker, and Director of Music at the Parish Church of St Thomas, Kensal Town, where he also plays the organ. He has also played in the presence of two Bishops, at two Church of England Cathedrals, one Royal Peculiar and several other high profile churches and Cathedrals in the UK and overseas.

He was kind enough to agree to join me on the podcast to talk candidly about his experiences growing up and his thoughts about braille. He also talked about the Louis Braille Museum, which he recently visited.

Other Links of Interest