Using Braille in Modern Technologies
After taking a look at what Braille is, let us find out its current status and the interesting innovations related to this reading and writing system for the blind.
Facts About Braille
Almost every country has adopted Braille as its official communications code for the blind. The United States, European countries such as Germany, Portugal, and Hungary, and Asian countries such as China, Japan, the Philippines, and Malaysia have their own distinct Braille codes. Presently, one of the newest Braille codes is the Tibetan Braille code.
In the U.S., around ten percent of the 1.3 million legally blind individuals can read and write Braille. This is according to a 2009 report done by the National Federation of the Blind (resource opens in new window). The vast availability of assistive technology and publications in audio format are believed to be the main reasons behind this small figure.
Braille literacy, however, increases the opportunities of the blind in employment. In the U.S., approximately thirty-two percent of the total blind community is employed. And in this figure, around ninety percent of blind people who have jobs can read and write Braille.
Incorporation of Braille in Various Facilities and Devices
Below are examples wherein Braille has been included in public facilities and specific products.
Braille in Public Areas
There are now buildings with elevators that have buttons with Braille markings. The blind therefore can ride the elevator on their own without the fear of accidentally going to the wrong floor.
Announcements and instructions posted on walls of public places also have Braille transcriptions so that blind people traveling on their own can read them. ATM machines have also started to include Braille markings to enable blind customers to make transactions.
In relation to this, some people view it with amusement, some with frustration, that there are Braille signs on the elevators in parking garages, or on drive-through ATMs, which blind people obviously won't use much. The reason is not to make fun of people who can't drive, rather, it is cheaper to install similar elevators and ATMs on all places.
Computers now incorporate the use of the Braille system. Braille displays are a type of hardware used by blind people to read what is being displayed on the computer’s screen. Once connected to the computer, this device translates into Braille the currently highlighted line, word, or character. Then through its refreshable Braille output, users can read the particular highlighted text. Users can also activate buttons and select items through this device. Braille displays also have several sizes. There are 84-cell desktop units, and there are 12-cell portable displays you can connect to your mobile phone.
The printer is one of the most useful devices for sighted computer users. Blind people, on the other hand, also have their own version of the printer. This is called the Braille embosser. This device lets users quickly produce reading materials in Braille.
First, the document has to be created and saved through a word processor. Next, the document is put through a Braille transcription software. This application allows the user to edit the layout and convert the text to the desired code. Then the user inserts Braille paper into the embosser and starts the embossing process. Braille embossers are used mainly in producing Braille books and numerous copies of a particular reading material.
Stand-Alone Braille devices
Braille users who prefer a more compact means of accessing and creating documents can use stand-alone Braille devices. These are portable hardware that include a refreshable Braille output through which they can read the text documents copied into the device. Stand-alone Braille devices evolved from mobile devices, mainly functioning like PDAs. They include a word processor, email, calendar, contacts, calculator, etc. Users do not have to connect this machine to a computer in order for it to function.
In the next post I will discuss if Braille is still useful today.