Even in a world of digital devices, braille continues to be a vital part of life for blind people. For nearly 200 years, this versatile writing system has allowed them to learn, work and live in a more independent way.
Technology undoubtedly has a role to play in enabling blind people to live independent lives. The news that the world’s first braille mobile phone has gone on sale is a step in the right direction but it is also clear that more people need to learn braille in the first place.
A 1998 study of 74 blind adults found that among those who had not learnt braille, 77% were unemployed while the figure dropped to only 44% among braille readers.
Despite this, a report by the National Federation of the Blind in 2009 revealed that fewer than 10% of legally blind people in the US are braille readers.
We are looking at how learners can make use of the touchscreen and keyboard devices that have become part of most people’s daily lives to learn braille, which, in turn, could help them gain better access to work and education.
Getting to grips with braille
The classic method of mastering braille involves a braille typewriter called a Perkins Brailler. But this can be an expensive piece of equipment to pick up so isn’t an option for many.
In an attempt to make braille more accessible, the Georgia Institute of Technology has developed an app called BrailleTouch. This transposes the six-figure braille keyboard to the smartphone.
The user holds the phone with the screen facing away from them, then using the same fingers as they would on the Perkins Brailler (index, middle and ring fingers) they can perform braille chords on the touchscreen. Different combinations of fingers produce different characters. Placing the left index and middle fingers on the screen will enter the character “b”, for example… see more