In praise of the Braille display

by Steven

Not being able to see means that, for example, I rely on audio output to access my computer via something called a screenreader, (I use JAWS by Freedom Scientific) that literally does what it says on the tin and tells me what is on screen. Using the keyboard and various shortcut keystrokes, I can easily move around the screen, browse the internet, read emails etc.

Steven using his Braille displayObviously, if I couldn’t hear very well, then all this was going to be closed off to me. We just resigned ourselves to the fact that I was going to have a very dull few weeks with my only entertainment being provided by the RNIB’s Braille library. This was until we heard about Braille Displays.

Braille displays provide access to information on a computer screen by electronically raising and lowering different combinations of pins in Braille cells. A braille display can show up to 80 characters from the screen and is refreshable – that is, it changes continuously as the user moves the cursor around on the screen, using either the command keys, cursor routing keys, or Windows and screen reader commands. They interact with the screenreading software providing me with access to everything on my computer in braille. Now, the idea of a Braille Display isn’t new to me. I used one at work for 5 years. However, I’d never considered buying one myself as they are very expensive and my hearing at the time was good enough that I could hear what the computer was saying to me.

The thing that got me thinking about getting one for myself was an article in one of the RNIB technology magazines explaining how some Braille displays now had Bluetooth functionality, meaning they could be paired with Apple products such as iPhones and iPads. Apple has incorporated a free screenreading programme called VoiceOver into their products which is how the Braille display is able to work with them.

The article went on to mention the fact that, it was possible to download the free Kindle reading app and read your Kindle books in Braille. This is pretty amazing. Previously I’ve been reliant on the small number of books which are converted to audio books or Braille. This is a very small percentage of the books published each year. With the deterioration in my hearing making audio books less easy for me to access, this limited my reading even more!

I’m a suspicious chap by nature and I needed to be convinced that this was actually as good as it sounds. One of the retailers who sell Braille displays here in the UK (Sight and Sound) offered to come and give me a demonstration and, not to put too fine a point on it, it blue my socks off! Now, for the first time, I could access my computer and phone in Braille! We couldn’t get the credit card out quick enough! I was also lucky that my phone provider was willing to give me a free upgrade to iPhone 5, so that I could make the most of the Braille display.

As I mentioned earlier , these things don’t come cheap. I was fortunate that we some savings and I know that, sadly, not everybody will have the money for such an expensive item. We did research possible financial support for this but, for adults, none was available unless you could get it through Access to Work if you have a job. Children can often get them as they can help with school work.

I think it’s a product that can transform deaf blind people’s lives, and definitely worth saving up for if you are able.

So, now I’m off to read my book! Bye for now.

You can read Steven’s oldblog, Hearing Again, in which he writes about his experience of receiving a cochlear implant

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