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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Index Braille is synonymous the world over with braille embossers. Founded by Bjorn Lofstedt and Torvald Lundqvist as Polar Print Production in Sweden in 1979, its first incarnation was as a university project to develop a braille typewriter with copy function. The company took shape in 1982 and, by 1984, a small batch of Index Computer Braille Printers (known as “Index 3.7” embossers after the firmware version) were manufactured in Bjorn’s garage. The current premises were obtained in 1985, financed by distributing assistive technology around Sweden. This distribution arm continued as Polar Print Production, and Index Braille became its own brand in the late 80s with the introduction of the Index Blue Bar, which took tractor fed paper. The Everest, for cut sheet paper, followed in 1992, then came the version 2 platform (Basic and Everest) in 1995, the 4X4 Pro for booklet printing in 1998, the version 3 platform with USB and network connectivity in 2002-4, the 4Waves Pro high speed production embosser in 2005, the version 4 platform with embedded translation and high speed cut sheet production in 2011, and the version 5 platform with wifi printing and printing directly from USB memory stick in 2016.
Christmas is coming; the goose is getting fat; and some of Santa’s most trusted helpers have been sent, on secondment, to the Royal National Institute of Blind People, where they’re busy writing letters to visually impaired children in accessible formats. Co-ordinating this effort on behalf of RNIB is Racheal Jarvis, News Agent Team Leader, and she joined us to tell us more about this exciting project.
To request a letter from Santa, please fill out the form on this page, email [email protected] or write to Santa Clause, RNIB, Midgate House, Midgate, Peterborough, PE1 1TN. Deadline for receipt of postal requests is Tuesday 1 December 2020, or Monday 21 December for emails.
Based in Boston Massachusetts since 1927, National Braille Press is a global leader in producing high quality, affordable braille materials and developing innovative technologies advancing braille literacy for blind and visually impaired children and adults everywhere. In addition to its first class braille transcription facility, producing everything from standardised tests to restaurant menus, NBP has a unique specialism in publishing original books by blind authors expressly for blind people, from cookery to technology. It also provides braille transcription and production services to like-minded organizations and, through the Centre for Braille Innovation, overseas the annual Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation.