Steven Morris, Digital Champions Coordinator, Online Today project
Tablet devices are becoming more and more popular both for personal and professional use. We see them in schools and in the workplace, as well as being used at home, and out and about.
There’s a huge array of choice on the market, and real efforts are being made to make tablets and smartphones more accessible. For example, Voiceover on apple products or Talkback on Android devices.
“Real efforts are being made to make tablets and smartphones accessible”
A lot of these devices also offer Braille support, allowing users to connect them to refreshable Braille displays. Now, for the first time, a company called Humanware have developed the world’s first Braille tablet, called the BrailleNote Touch. And I was lucky enough yo attend the UK launch event in London to learn more about it.
The BrailleNote Touch
For many years, Humanware have developed a wide range of products for people who are blind or have low vision – such as Braille note-takers, including the popular BrailleNote Apex, and the Victor Reader digital talking book players. You may also be aware of the Deafblind Communicator, another Humanware product.
I spoke to Greg Stilson at HumanWare about this exciting new development in the assistive technology field, before being given the opportunity to have a go at using the BrailleNote Touch
The idea behind the BrailleNote Touch is to develop a product with all the accessibility features you’d need, with the efficiency of a powerful Android tablet device. Although as I’ve previously said, mainstream manufacturers and developers are making their devices accessible, they can still be less efficient to use for a blind person than a traditional assistive technology device. If you use an IPad or similar, it can be frustrating swiping around the screen to find what you are looking for.
“The idea behind the BrailleNote Touch is to develop a product with all the accessibility features you’d need with the efficiency of a powerful Android tablet device.”
Greg outlined how The BrailleNote Touch uses Humanwares innovative Keysoft technology, which means that for users already familiar with older versions of Humanware’s Braille Note and Apex devices, the learning curve will be minimal.
Keysoft is the user experience found on the BrailleNote, and now the BrailleNote Touch. Among other things, it offers a familiar and intuitive user experience with a linear menu structure making it easy for a blind person to visualise where they are anywhere in the system, along with familiar keyboard shortcuts.
Keysoft also offers first letter navigation, making it easier and faster to find what you are looking for—simply type E for email, which is certainly faster than on other devices. There is also contextual help available anywhere, so it’s simple to learn. Keysoft allows easy navigation of thousands of accessible 3rd party apps which can be downloaded from the Google Play store.
One of the most interesting aspects to the BrailleNote Touch, is the introduction of Touch braille. This allows you to type in Braille on the touch screen. Place all 10 fingers flat on the screen and the virtual keys will find your fingers almost instantly. You can then type in Braille quickly and efficiently on the touch screen. When Greg was demonstrating this feature, the typing was silent which many find to be an advantage over noisy keys being pressed. If you prefer a more traditional Braille keyboard style of typing, this is still an option as a keyboard is located in the BrailleNote Touch carry case which can be folded out for use instead of the touch screen.
“Touch braille allows you to type in Braille on the touch screen”
As well as all the assistive technology features, the BrailleNote Touch also has all the things you’d expect to find on a traditional tablet, meaning it really does give the user the best of both worlds.
The above only gives a brief snapshot of everything the BrailleNote Touch is capable of, but more info can be found on the HumanWare website.
After the presentation came the part of the day I was looking forward to most, a chance to have a play with the BrailleNote Touch.
One of the things I was immediately impressed by was the speed of navigation. Simply type the first letter of what you are looking for and it’s there! I was able to quickly open the email programme on the device and start creating a new email. I can see the speed of the device being hugely appreciated for students and teachers, as well as those in the workplace. In the brief time I had to use it, I did struggle a little to get used to the Touch Braille—though I was aware of others around me using it very efficiently, so I put this down more to me preferring a physical keyboard. I tried the keyboard which folds out of the carry case and this made a huge difference to how I was able to use the device.
“I can see the speed of the device being hugely appreciated for students and teachers”
Humanware are anticipating that the BrailleNote Touch will be on sale towards the end of May, although you can already pre-order it from their website. The BrailleNote Touch comes in 2 sizes—a 32 Braille cell model costing £3,995 and an 18 cell model for £2,995. Humanware do offer loyalty trade-ins of older models of the BraileNote device which does knock a fair bit off the price. Contact Humanware for more information, or to arrange a free demonstration of the BrailleNote Touch. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
To conclude, I think this is a brilliant piece of kit, and Humanware are to be congratulated on what they have achieved. I can’t think of any higher praise than to say I was sorry to have to give it back to them at the end of the session!