"Technology enhances braille,
it does not make it obsolete."

 

Newsletter

January 2017 ● Issue #6

Notice to BLC Members: Save the Date

Our next annual General Meeting (AGM) will take place in Toronto on May 6th, 2017. We recognize that not all members will be able to attend in person, so we will offer some options for participating electronically. These will include appointing a proxy or submitting an electronic ballot. A notice with more details will be sent out to members in the next couple of months. We look forward to seeing you there!

New UEB Listserv

If you are learning, teaching or transcribing Unified English Braille (UEB) and are looking for a place to post questions, Braille Literacy Canada (BLC) invites you to join our UEB listserve. Subscribers can post to the list, and all queries will be answered by code and formatting experts. Information and announcements relevant to UEB will also be forwarded to this list.

To subscribe to the discussion list, visit https://lists.blc-lbc.ca/mailman/listinfo/ueb_lists.blc-lbc.ca

Focus Group Announcement

As many of you may be aware, the federal government is currently undertaking a consultation process to inform the development of new legislation aimed at improving accessibility and removing barriers to the participation of persons with disabilities in all aspects of Canadian society. Public consultation sessions have been held in major cities across the country, but individuals and organizations are also permitted to make written submissions to the process.

The scope of these consultations is wide. Feedback is being sought to help determine the goals of the legislation, the approach it will take to improving accessibility, how standards should be developed, how compliance and enforcement should be handled, and what the government can do to support organizations in becoming accessible. More information on the consultation process generally can be found at https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/programs/disability/consultations/accessibility-legislation.html.

For more information on the scope and reach of the federal government's regulatory power, please see: https://slmc.uottawa.ca/?q=laws_canada_legal.

Braille Literacy Canada intends to submit a position paper to the government outlining the importance of federal organizations ensuring that information is accessible and available in braille. To facilitate this, we would like to hold a consultation session with our members to gather input on what factors should be considered in this submission. Questions to consider may include:

  1. What arguments (academic, theoretical, practical, or otherwise) would you use to justify the importance of having access to braille from federally-regulated organizations for Canadians who are blind or deaf-blind?
  2. Should braille materials be on hand, available upon request, or, within a "reasonable" timeframe? If the latter, what would seem to be a "reasonable" timeframe?
  3. In the reverse direction, should Canadians who are blind or deaf-blind have the right to submit documentation in braille to federally-regulated bodies?
  4. To what degree, if at all, should the legislation specify the standards to which braille is to be produced? What 'standards' should it adopt, and how?
  5. Should we attempt to solidify, through legislation (or regulation), Braille Literacy Canada's (internationally recognized) role as the preeminent "authority" for braille standards in Canada? If so, how?
Anyone interested in contributing to this discussion is invited to join us by telephone for a conference call on January 28th, 2016 between 1 and 3pm Eastern (10-noon Pacific, 11am-1pm Mountain, 12-2pm Central, 2-4pm Atlantic) or, alternatively, to submit written comments and feedback to info@blc-lbc.ca
on or before January 28th, 2016.

If you would like to participate in the conference call, please e-mail secretary@blc-lbc.ca to register. Information on how to join the call will be sent to you a few days before the event.

We look forward to your participation on January 28th! If you have any questions or require further information in the interim, please feel free to email info@blc-lbc.ca.

BLC Committees

As many of you know, the work of BLC is done by committees. Here is a list of our current committees and their responsibilities. New members are always welcome!

For more information please send an email to info@blc-lbc.ca.

The web committee
  • Maintains web site and social media and updates content with current events, resources and other items of interest.
  • Works with other committees to update content as appropriate.
The membership committee
  • Collaborates with the BLC treasurer and the Corporate Secretary to manage membership data.
  • Ensures that email reminders are sent to those members who have not renewed their membership.
  • Proposes options for increasing membership.
The communications committee
  • Proposes options for increasing communication with BLC members and the general public.
  • Prepares and distributes the BLC newsletter.
The braille formats committee
  • Determines other guidelines that should be reviewed by BLC for use in Canada. Members of this committee must have a thorough knowledge of braille and must be familiar with issues specific to formatting.
The teaching and learning committee
  • Conducts research related to braille instruction of children and adults.
  • Seeks funding sources to support this research. Committee members should be employed as an educator of visually impaired students or be studying in the field.
The nominations committee
  • Seeks candidates to fill vacant positions on the Board of Directors.
  • Presents the slate of nominations to BLC members at the Annual General Meeting.
The braille promotion committee
  • Proposes and implements activities to promote braille in Canada. The brailler bounce initiative is a project of this committee.
  • Plans teleconferences on various braille-related issues.
The French braille standards committee
  • Proposes and implements research and/or other projects pertaining to French braille in Canada.
The bylaws committee
  • Drafts text for changes to BLC bylaws as appropriate. Previous experience with bylaw revisions is an asset.

Braille Screen Input on iOS Devices

By Natalie Martiniello

For people who are blind or who have low vision, one could argue that the built-in accessibility of Apple’s iPhone and iPad ranks among the most significant developments for our community since the year 2000. Based on universal design, Apple products led the way by demonstrating that technology could and should be accessible to diverse users from the start. Rather than retrofitting, universal design from inception has not only levelled the playingfield for those of us who are blind, but has also benefited users with perfect sight. After all, doesn’t everyone – sighted or blind - use Siri nowadays? And this is the point. When you make things accessible from the start, everyone wins. And the trend is catching on. Though Apple paved the way, other companies are following in their footsteps – Google’s Android, being one.

As someone who is blind and who has also taught clients who are blind, I have seen multiple examples of how this innovative technology can increase independence and opportunities. I have about 7 pages of apps on my iPhone. The true wonder and joy of all of this, for those of us who are braille users, is that all of these apps that are accessible with VoiceOver (the built-in screenreader on Apple products) can be used with a braille display. Suddenly, we have so much more access to braille – for learning, practicing and using it in our everyday lives. With the launch of the Orbit Braille Reader (sold by CNIB in Canada), the first low-cost braille display, access to braille information in this way is about to increase for many more people. Despite what mainstream news at times inaccurately proclaims, technology hasn’t replaced braille – it’s solidified its place in a truly exciting digital age!

As a Vision Rehabilitation Therapist, I’ve harnessed the power of this technology with braille learners – many of whom are adults and seniors, when possible. It allows us to access far more material than ever before, and enables braille learners to practice braille in ways that are so meaningful to them – writing a facebook post, a tweet or an iMessage provides instant satisfaction to many, particularly for those who are losing their vision and who are eager to reconnect with the social world. These are just some creative ways one might use a braille display (connected to an I-device) during lessons.

I’d like to use the remainder of this post, however, to describe the use of the on-screen braille keyboard. Since iOS 8, braille users can activate an on-screen braille keyboard that they can use in place of the regular, on-screen QWERTY keyboard that usually appears for typing. Though many blind users, myself included, can and do use the regular on-screen QWERTY keyboard, it can be somewhat cumbersome and time-consuming to use, since the letters need to be located and selected one at a time. The on-screen braille keyboard, in contrast, allows you to form braille letters directly onto the screen, which greatly increases writing speed.

I use the on-screen braille keyboard exclusively for all my iPhone typing, and can type quicker than most of my sighted friends because of it. It’s also a great way for learners to practice braille. Using the on-screen braille keyboard requires them to think about how braille symbols are formed and what dots are included – It can be a great way to reinforce the learning of braille letters while accomplishing meaningful and relevant tasks on an I-device. Plus, the built-in screen reader on Apple products provides instant audio feedback, which is a great motivator and learning support for students!

To activate the on-screen braille keyboard:
  1. Select the Settings Application from the Home Screen.
  2. Press the "General “button, found within the Settings main menu.
  3. Press the "Accessibility" options button.
  4. Press the "VoiceOver" options button.
  5. Press the "Rotor" options button.
  6. Find the Braille Screen Input function.
  7. If Voiceover doesn’t say, "Selected," double-tap on braille-screen input to add it to your rotor.
Though it’s beyond the scope of this article to explain the Rotor and how it works, I recommend this website which provides a very helpful explanation: http://www.voiceover-easy.net/References/RotorFunctions.aspx

Once you’ve followed the above steps, you’ll also want to configure your braille-screen input to best meet your needs before using it for the first time. Visit this link to learn more about how to select uncontracted or contracted input, six or eight key entry, and the braille code you wish to use when typing. By default, the braille code that is used for Braille Screen Input is Unified English Braille: http://www.voiceover-easy.net/AdvancedOptions/OtherInputMethods.aspx#section0300

Once you’ve added braille screen input to your rotor and configured the settings for the first time, the braille screen input will now be available to you whenever you’re within a text field and need to type. Simply perform the Rotor gesture to select braille screen input.

How to Type using On-Screen Braille Input: Once activated, there are two options for typing using braille screen input. Table-top mode (when your device is laying flat on any surface) allows you to use your index, middle and ring fingers for typing as if it were a Perkins brailler. Screen-away mode, which I prefer and find more reliable, is preferable for smaller devices (such as the iPhone). To use braille screen input in screen-away mode:
  • Activate braille screen input in your rotor
  • Hold your iPhone in landscape orientation (that is, with the screen facing away from you, and the home button to the right).
  • Hold your iPhone using your thumbs on the top edge and your pinky fingers on the bottom edge of your device. Your Index, Middle, and Ring fingers should now form two vertical columns of three dots just like the dots in the braille cell.
  • Imagine this braille cell in front of you before typing, with dots 1, 2 and 3 placed vertically on the left and dots 4, 5 and 6 placed vertically on the right. Press down the fingers that correspond to the dots of the symbol you’d like to form. For example, press down your left index finger (which should be located on the top left of your screen in landscape orientation) to form the letter “A”, and press your left index, right index and right middle fingers together to form the letter “D”.
Try doing the entire alphabet for practice!

Other useful gestures when using braille screen input in screen-away mode:
  • Swipe with one finger towards the left to delete the previous letter
  • Swipe with one finger towards the right to insert a “space”
  • Swipe with two fingers towards the right to move to the next line (VoiceOver will say “new line”)
  • Swipe with three fingers towards the left to switch to contracted mode (which allows you to type contractions).
  • Swipe with three fingers towards the right to move back to uncontracted mode.
Now, you can type in braille on your device wherever you are!

Braille: A Story of Personal Life-Long Empowerment

By Leo Bissonnette, Ph.D.

As we celebrate the contribution of Louis Braille and his impact on our individual lives today, this issue features articles that make a strong case for the value of braille. My story adds to this accumulated statement of empowerment and the need to keep braille relevant in the lives of the blind today.

Like so many others in the blind community, I have listened to audio books since I was able to operate the record player that used to store talking books back in my early childhood. Today I enjoy reading books on my iPhone, using my Victor Reader Stream, or sitting at the computer. As important as the digital age is to me, nothing has even come close to empowering me as a blind person the way braille has.

A Little About Me

I was born with low vision and started my education working in large print. Then my mother, who was quite the advocate in making sure that I received a good education and essential rehabilitation services, felt that braille should be a tool added to my toolbox. So I started learning braille in third grade while attending the Montreal Association School for the Blind. I quickly took to using braille right away, and have used it as my first tool, taken from my toolbox, on a daily basis ever since.

Back to the Present

These days, what with the portability and low cost of ebooks, it seems that braille is struggling to keep its place in the lives of the blind. The high cost of braille displays compounds the problem, making it easier to simply abandon braille, or perhaps relegate it to infrequent use. Does it really matter if Braille becomes a medium that exists only in the memories of older blind people? Is it time to move on to more modern and cost-effective ways of communicating the written word, or should we fight to bring braille back to the forefront of our collective consciousness? Why is braille still relevant today?

I believe braille is essential for good writing. I would not be the proficient speller I am today if I had not read hundreds of thousands of braille words over the course of my life. While any decent screen reader provides the ability to spell words and review lines of text character by character, it is virtually impossible to catch all formatting and spelling errors in a document with speech alone. Anyone who uses text-to-speech software at all knows all too well the frustration of deciphering b’s from d’s, and sorting out all of the words that sound alike but are spelled differently such as there and their.

When I really need to digest something I am reading, I will slow my speech rate down or transfer the content to an SD card for later reading on my braille display. I am constantly amazed at the number of errors I find in documents I am reading in braille that I did not catch with speech alone.

Would I want to go back to the days before I had my iPhone and portable book reader? No way. Am I as likely to use a slate and stylus today as I was 50 years ago—although I still carry one in my brief case just in case I need it? Probably not. Can I imagine what my life would be like if I never again read another line of text in braille? I don’t even want to dwell on the thought!

Exploring Braille Settings on iOS

by Kim Kilpatrick

This will be the first in a series of articles exploring the use of braille displays with iDevices.

In this article, I will briefly describe the braille settings and show you how to pair a refreshable braille display with an iDevice. Braille support for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, and iPad Mini is built into the screen reader which comes with your iDevice. This screen reader is called VoiceOver. Most braille displays work well with VoiceOver. You must use Bluetooth to pair a braille display with your iDevice. Unlike other Bluetooth devices (keyboards, headphones, speakers) braille displays are not paired in the Bluetooth settings but are paired in the VoiceOver braille settings.

Braille Settings

In Settings on your iDevice go to General, then Accessibility, then VoiceOver. You can also ask Siri to open VoiceOver settings. Double tap on Braille.

The settings are as follows (double tap each setting to explore its options):
  1. Braille Display Output (this is what you read on your display). You can choose from uncontracted 6-dot braille, uncontracted 8-dot braille and contracted braille. Double tap on the one you want.
  2. Braille Display Input (what you use when brailling with your display). Again, you can choose from uncontracted 6-dot braille, uncontracted 8-dot braille and contracted braille.
  3. Automatic Braille Translation: When this is turned on, it translates braille contractions as you type. When it is off, it waits until you press space to translate the braille.
  4. Braille Screen Input: This is for typing braille on the screen of your iDevice. I will discuss this in a future article.
  5. Status Cells: This will also be discussed in a later article.
  6. Equations Use Nemeth Code: You can toggle this off or on depending on how you feel about Nemeth code.
  7. Show on screen keyboard: I will discuss this in a future article.
  8. Turn pages when panning: This is also a toggle and I suggest you leave it on as when reading a book it will just keep going to the next page.
  9. Braille Translation: In English braille your options are: English (unified), English (US) and English (United Kingdom)
  10. Alert display duration: This will be discussed in a future article.
  11. Choose a braille display: Verify that Bluetooth is enabled on your iDevice.

Pairing Your Braille Display

Make sure that your braille display is in Bluetooth or pairing mode. How you achieve this varies depending on your display (consult your braille display manual). Then, find your braille display in the list below the heading titled Choose a braille display and double tap on it.

Some displays pair automatically while others require a PIN to be entered. Check your braille display manual for more information.

Once the display is paired, it should stay paired.

When turning off the braille display and/or iDevice, lock the device first, then turn off the display. When turning them back on, turn on the braille display first then unlock your device. They should pair again without you having to do anything in the braille settings.

If you need help using your braille display with your iPhone, or have questions or topics you wish to be covered, let us know.

BLC on Social Media

Braille Literacy Canada is now on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn! Find us there to receive news about BLC and braille, to stay informed, and to join a network of others devoted to braille just like you.