One of the best things about being in the digital accessibility field is learning about the innovative tools that give users with disabilities the ability to access and understand content they otherwise could not experience. Assistive technology (AT) allows folks with disabilities to access computers, electronic devices and the web using additional or alternative input and output methods. Examples of AT include a screen reader, the keyboard and switch devices.
Braille display devices are fascinating, both in their complexity and range of uses. These devices translate all of the on-screen text into braille, so users who are deaf, blind, low vision or a combination can use their sense of touch to read the information from their computer or device. Many of these devices also have a braille keyboard which means that users are able to “type” in text similar to a computer keyboard or other input devices.
The braille output device is one of the only ways folks who are deafblind can access the web and other digital content–as they may not be able to see or hear the content–but they can feel it. It’s amazing to watch the pins rise up from the terminal, allowing users to independently access the information that users without disabilities easily experience everyday.
Read the video transcript
A Braille display allows people who have no vision, unable to read print letters and text the ability to read and write independently without using audio.
A Braille display, such as this one, can be used in conjunction with speech as a screen reader, or on it’s own by a Deaf Blind person.
If you’re using a Braille display, the most powerful things to do with it are editing.
You’re able to move the cursor to wherever you want on the screen, you’re able to move the Braille display along the text and in the document that you’re looking at.
There are different types of Braille displays and many of them allow a person to either use a computer to make the edits or edit right using the Braille display.
You’re able to connect to your computer either a laptop or desktop or an iPhone that allows a person to read in Braille what appears on the screen.
Some Braille devices allow you to enter text right from the device on the display and it will show up on the computer screen.
A computer screen reader essentially is a program that runs in the background on your computer and voices or displays in Braille whatever is on the screen.
If you’re blind, and you’re using a computer, you’re not getting information from looking at the screen.
But you still require the information so that’s when a screen reader comes into play and that’s a piece of software that basically reads aloud absolutely everything on your screen not just the information for example what’s in an email, not just the body of the text, but absolutely everything that the interface, the file menus, absolutely everything and that’s how somebody would obtain that information if they were blind and they’re using a computer.
What I’m going to show you right now is a piece of software called Zoomtext which allows somebody with low vision to access their computer by having everything magnified, and also, possibly read aloud to them.
The Zoomtext software is very popular, and you can magnify from one point seven five times to about thirty six times I think.
Depending on how large your screen is, you can really maximize the use of the magnification.
You can also do things like change your colour scheme.
If you prefer a darker background, with light writing you can have that.
There are 3 main types of braille displays:
- Stand-alone braille display: connects to another device (e.g. computer) to produce raised braille dots and “refresh” as the text content changes.
- Notetakers: these sophisticated devices do much more than take notes, they stream music, read e-books aloud and are compatible with many applications.
- Smart display device: these are a combination of stand-alone displays and notetakers. They are often smaller, and are more compatible with utility functions–like device clocks and electronic document
Boundless Assistive Technologies, Freedom Scientific and Humanware are among the many companies that create braille displays, portable smart displays and notetakers. The American Foundation for the Blind also has plentiful resources and recommendations on these amazing devices.
Given the complexity of these devices, most are only able to display 80 characters at a time, which means users aren’t able to read at a very fast rate. Luckily, improvements are in the works. The California Institute of Technology is looking at electroactive polymers (EAPs) as a type of material that could improve these braille displays, and possibly even translate more dynamic content, like graphs and maps! See what we mean when we say “complex?”