What Happened at CSUN? (Episode 38)

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The annual CSUN Assistive Technology Conference took place in March in California, and there were lots of exciting braille and tactile graphics announcements.

We assembled a line-up of braille-using panellists who attended the conference who talked us through what was announced and gave their first impressions of the new products they saw.

Braille Around the World (Episode 37)

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We know about braille in the UK, of course, and we regularly hear about braille in other developed English-speaking countries – the US, Australia, New Zealand and so on. But there are many other countries in the world about which we hear much less. How is braille taught? How is it produced? How easy is it to obtain? What braille technology is in use?

On Tuesday 4 January, to mark World Braille Day, we explored these issues in detail with three panellists:

  • Adrijana Prokopenko is a teacher of English and English braille in a school for the blind in Macedonia.
  • Yanan Yu from China has a Master’s degree in Disability Studies and is currently an intern at Bristol Braille Technology. Prior to this, she worked for a year as an Editor at China Braille Press.
  • Christo de Klerk is a founding member of Braille SA, the first President of the South African Braille Authority and the Immediate Past President of the International Council on English Braille. He is a former student of the Pioneer School for the Visually Impaired (formerly the School for the Blind in Worcester), where he later returned as a staff member, teaching law and braille and establishing computerised braille production. He qualified in law and practiced as a lawyer before retraining as a computer programmer, and has developed braille tables for ten South African languages in Duxbury, eight in Liblouis, and one for Afrikaans for the Embraille iOS app. His last job before retirement was as an IT Specialist in one of South Africa’s banks.

Focus Braille Displays, ElBraille and JAWS 2022 (Episode 36)

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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.

UK Pricing

All products available from Sight and Sound Technology Ltd and all prices given ex VAT.Focus 14 £1275 Focus 40 £2950 Focus 80 £7850 ElBraille 40 £1535 with Intel M3 or £1825 with Intel I5

Links

The BrailleSense 6 (Episode 35)

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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.

Useful Links

Braille in Spain and Translating for the Spanish Foreign Ministry with María García Garmendia (Episode 34)

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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.

Links

Kawal Gucukoglu on Being a Braille Transcriber and What Braille Means to Her (Episode 33)

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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.

Resources

Improving Reading Speed and Building Braille Mastery with Kit Aronoff (Episode 32)

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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.

Resources

  • Braille Together Mingle is organised by the American Council of the Blind. For more information, email [email protected]

Braille: Connecting the Dots in 2021 (Episode 31)







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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.

Credits

Host
Dave Williams
Panellist
Claire Amoroso
Panellist
Darren Paskell
Panellist
Laurent Cadet de Fontenay
Moderator
Ben Mustill-Rose
Producer
Matthew Horspool

Resources Mentioned in this Episode

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







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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)







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“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