Freedom Scientific is perhaps best known for its popular JAWS screen reader, but it also manufactures the Focus line of refreshable braille displays. The first generation of these well-known units was released in the early 2000s, and now the fifth generation is available in 14, 40 and 80-cell configurations, with the 40-cell version being an integral part of the ElBraille from Elita Group. To tell us more, I’m joined by Ron Miller, Blindness Hardware Product Specialist at Vispero.
For at least the past 30 years, blind people have been well-served by notetakers: electronic, computer-like devices with a Perkins-style keyboard and speech and braille output. At their most basic level, they’ve functioned as an electronic brailler for composing documents and, of course, taking notes, but they’ve also included functionality such as a calculator, address list, scheduler and, latterly, internet connectivity. Over the past few years, there’s been a steady shift towards vastly increasing the capabilities of these devices, with many moving towards either Windows or Android.
The latest of this newer style of notetaker is the BrailleSense 6 from Selvis Healthcare (formerly Hims). It measures 9.65×5.67×0.87 inches, weighs 1.58 lbs (2.3 lbs with case), and is equipped with a 4590 mAh user-replaceable battery, wi-fi up to 802.11AC, Bluetooth 5.1, GPS and compass, USB C with display port functionality, full-size SD card slot, 13 MP rear camera, microphone and stereo speakers. It’s also just received its first software update.
Stuart Lawler is Head of Digital Content at Sight and Sound Technology Ltd, and Business Development Manager at Sight and Sound Ireland, and he joined me to tell us more about this update and the BrailleSense as a whole.
The BrailleSense 6 retails for £4395 excluding VAT.
George Bernard Shaw, in his play Pygmalion, wrote that “the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.” That line has its roots in spoken language, though of course in English rather than Spanish! But what about written language?
We quite often talk about braille being useful as a tool when learning languages, but María García Garmendia of Madrid, Spain has taken things to the next level by qualifying as an official translator for the Spanish Foreign Ministry. As well as professionally translating to and from Italian and Portuguese, she’s also a fluent speaker of English, German, French and Russian.
She’s been blind effectively since birth due to Retinopathy of Prematurity, learnt braille from the age of three and, in addition to her translation work, she has a part-time job as a lawyer in one of Spain’s principal banks.
In this episode of Braillecast, we hear more about her legal and translation work, the availability of braille and braille technology in Spain, and the Spanish braille code. We also discuss her thoughts about grade 2 braille, scenarios in which braille is especially useful, and braille education.
Transcription, for anyone who doesn’t already know, is the process of taking content in one format and converting it into another. In this case, print is being converted into braille, a process ubiquitous in the production of braille books, magazines, bills, bank statements, legal documents and much more. Humans have been at the heart of this process since its inception and, in spite of numerous technological advances, they remain so today.
Kawal Gucukoglu, herself blind since birth, was a braille transcriber at RNIB for over 23 years, and in this episode of Braillecast, she shares some of the highs and lows of this part of her career, as well as what braille means to her more generally. We discussed the change to Unified English Braille, the evolving role of technology, the division of labour within a large organisation, and unique opportunities afforded to her through her braille-related work.
It’s a question we get asked all the time – how can I read braille more quickly? To answer it, we were delighted to be joined on Tuesday 19 October by Kit Aronoff of Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and founder of Main Line Accessibility Consulting. Kit has a background in elementary education and, using principals of teaching literacy to emerging readers and articles from the National Federation of the Blind, she has developed a series of strategies which are sure to benefit even the most competent of braillists.
Our Chairman Dave Williams led the discussion, and he started by asking Kit to describe her braille learning journey.
- Braille Together Mingle is organised by the American Council of the Blind. For more information, email [email protected]
Perhaps you’re thinking about learning braille, but don’t know whether it’s worth it. Maybe you learnt braille as a child, but haven’t used it since. You might know braille and want to use it in your daily life, but can’t work out where it will fit. Or you could be bamboozled by braille technology, gadgets and gizmos.
A panel of passionate braillists met in front of a live audience on Tuesday 12 October 2021 to celebrate National Braille Week. They explored how to overcome common obstacles faced by people who could benefit from reading by touch, sharing a diverse range of perspectives from braille learners to braille experts, technology enthusiasts to people who just need to get on at home or in the workplace. The audience also had the opportunity to ask questions and contribute their own tips and suggestions.
- Dave Williams
- Claire Amoroso
- Darren Paskell
- Laurent Cadet de Fontenay
- Ben Mustill-Rose
- Matthew Horspool
Resources Mentioned in this Episode
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
- Sight Village Birmingham: Queen Alexandra College, Court Oak Road, Harborne, Birmingham, B17 9TG
- Braille and Beer: The Old House at Home, 193, Lordswood Road, Harborne, Birmingham, B17 8QP
- Focus 14 Blue 5th gen and Focus 40 Blue 5th gen special offer: call 01604 798070 or order online
- Vision Through Sound CIC
“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
- I-M-ABLE: Individualized Meaning-Centered Approach to Braille Literacy Education, by Diane P. Wormsley, Ph.D published by the American Printing House for the Blind
- The Abi Books: Adventures of a Young Blind Girl, available from the Royal National Institue of Blind People (ABI-BOOKS): full set (formerly TC21432, £115.00), books 1-20 (formerly TC21429, £40.00), books 21-30 (formerly TC21430, £40.00) and books 31-40 (formerly TC21431, £50.00) + Teacher’s Handbook (ABI-TEACHER) available for £15.00 in print (formerly TC21433) and braille (formerly TC21434).
- Fingerprint: distance learning course for touch readers, available from RNIB: course books (TC21439, £39.00) + instructions (TC21439-INST) available for £15.00 on audio CD (formerly TC21439CD), multi-media CD (formerly TC21439M) and in print (formerly TC21439P) and grade 2 braille (formerly TC21439B) + Reference Book (volume 10), available in braille (TC21440, £5.00).
- BrailleNote Touch Plus (18-cell and 32-cell), available from HumanWare
- The Duxbury Braille Translator from Duxbury Systems
- The Braille Primer: a comprehensive guide to contracted braille for people wishing to learn to write braille or who want to become transcribers, available from RNIB for £9.90 (TC21423) in print (formerly TC21423P), large print 18pt (formerly TC21423LP) and grade 2 braille (formerly TC21423B).
- A Braille Reader in the Family (booklet and sheet formats) and Crack the Code (booklet and sheet formats) from the ClearVision Project
- UEB Online from the Renwick Centre of The Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children
- The Orbit Reader family from Orbit Research
- The professional association for the vision impairment education workforce (VIEW)
- Catch These Words, website of Holly Scott-Gardner
- Using a Range of Braille Technologies to Access Adult Life, a paper presented at the seventh General Assembly of the International Council on English Braille by Kirsten Roberts: Video presentation on Youtube, Word version or BRF version
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.
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.
Email: [email protected]
Telephone: 0208 789 9575