There are a number of different braille reading devices available depending on the needs of the user. Some devices are better suited for reading books, some need to be able to translate everything on a computer screen into braille, some devices are made for students and note-taking, while other devices need more varied capabilities such as file sharing, connecting to online apps for interaction in an academic setting, word processing, calendaring, calculating and more, and some users want the ability to print online documents in braille.
Users who are blind commonly use the following braille reading devices:
- Refreshable Braille Devices
- Stand-Alone Braille Display
- Smart Displays
- Screen Reading Technology
- Braille Printers/Embossers
Refreshable Braille Devices
A refreshable braille device produces braille when connected to other devices such as computers, tablets, or smart phones. The level of braille produced will be dependent upon the functionality and sophistication of the device it is connected to. Refreshable braille devices can vary greatly based on their desired capabilities.
When connected to a computer or tablet, these devices translate one line of text at a time from the content on the screen into braille. The cursor moves from line to line across and down the screen thus creating refreshable braille that is continuously changing. “A braille display device operates by lowering and raising different combinations of pins electronically to produce in braille what appears on a portion of the computer screen.” Source. A user will move their fingers across the ever-changing braille cells, not unlike reading braille on paper.
The three main refreshable braille devices used are stand-alone braille displays, notetakers, and smart display devices. “While connected to computers and tablets and phones, a braille display can assist the user with reading in braille what is on the screen, taking notes in braille, and navigating the various applications that the device has to offer.”
Notetakers can range from fairly simple note-taking devices to more sophisticated devices that can browse the internet, stream music and YouTube videos, read books aloud, utilize applications like word processing and PowerPoint and some even have mathematic equation capabilities such as calculators.
Notes are taken using a braille or standard keyboard and those notes can be saved on a computer or printed out in either braille or regular print. They are generally very portable as are commonly used by students. Notetakers can connect to the internet allowing students to take tests or do work in any setting with access to the internet.
Smart displays are not notetakers nor are they stand-alone refreshable braille devices but have characteristics of both of these devices. Smart displays lie somewhere in the middle of those two devices and are less loaded with features, which makes them more affordable. With smart displays, users who are blind can still read or write in braille and store files in PDF or excel with document readers, but smart displays can’t connect to the internet for browsing or streaming. They allow users to access the content on their computers, tablets, or smartphones.
Screen reading technology allows users who are blind or who have low vision to have content on a computer screen read to them with a speech synthesizer. Screen reading software also allows users to read the text on the screen with a braille display device. How does the software work? According to the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), “A screen reader is the interface between the computer’s operating system, its applications, and the user.” Using a keyboard a user can give commands and perform advanced functions with the content on the computer screen or document or spreadsheet.
A braille printer is a device that is attached to a computer in order to take documents and print the text out in braille. Braille printers use a thicker paper, which is made for embossing. These printers can also be attached to notetakers for printing out notes in braille. Some computer files require braille translation software in order to print text on a braille printer.
T-Base offers braille printing services adhering to Braille Authority of North America (BANA) standards. T-Base Communications provides accessible statements, documents, and textbooks in braille, accessible PDF, e-Text, audio, HTML, and reflowed large print.