Being born blind meant braille was a life saver growing up in the ’90s

A man and woman walk arm in arm through a large hall. The man has a white cane and is wearing a cochlear implant

The amount of braille based devices on offer was the one thing that really stood out to me when I attended last year’s Sight Village assistive technology show.

As Sense’s Technology Officer, it got me thinking back to my own relationship with braille over the years, and why I think that even in a world where there’s so much assistive technology, braille – certainly for me – has been incredibly important.

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What questions do six year olds have for deafblind people?

A seated man with a group of students, seated on the floor
Steven Morris with the Year 2 students

Last month, I went back to school… well for an afternoon at least!

Over the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to one of my local primary schools, Chepping View Primary Academy in High Wycombe – where my wife works – to talk about living with a sensory impairment.

My visits have helped the children to understand more about the work Sense does, and the people it supports. As a result, the school council decided to run ‘Sense cinema day’ just before Christmas, raising more than £800 for the charity.

Each year, I speak to the Year 2 children about braille, certain technology that I use, and then I brave their questions!

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How accessible are Apple’s devices for people who are deafblind?

Steven with a man who is discussing an iPad
Steven discussing his iPad at a Sense technology workshop

For many people who are deafblind, smartphones and tablets can offer a lot in terms of accessibility features. Whether it’s a screen reader like Voiceover on an Apple iPhone, or an iPad or Talkback on Android models, it’s great to see that manufacturers are considering accessibility at the heart of what they do.

That said, the vast array of features can be bewildering. As an Apple user, I make use of several online resources to help me get the best from my devices.

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VarioUltra braille display

BAUM Vario Ultra Braille Display with 20 and 40 keys
BAUM Vario Ultra braille display with 20 and 40 braille cells

The personal views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not represent a product endorsement on behalf of Sense.

For people like me who are deafblind, braille displays can be an invaluable tool to help us access information and keep in touch with family and friends. There are an increasing number of braille devices currently on the market – we’ve written about some of them in previous posts. One of the newest Braille Displays available is the VarioUltra braille display and notetaker, manufactured by BAUM.

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Take the assistive technology survey 2016

The UK Government is currently conducting the 2016 assistive technology survey. The survey is open until the end of June and is looking at what assistive technology people use to access the Gov.UK website.

Gov.UK is the main source of information about government services and useful information about issues such as benefits, registering to vote and information on parenting and childcare.

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Review: The BrailleNote Touch is the world's first Braille tablet

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.

BrailleNote touch tablet device
‘BrailleNote Touch’ tablet device from Humanware

“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.

BrailleNote Touch being used by adult on a plane

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:

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!

An update about the Next Generation Text Relay service

Steven Morris, Digital Champions Coordinator, Online Today project

Some readers of the oldblog may be aware that BT has recently replaced their old text relay service with the new Next Generation Text Relay Service (NGT). Last year, Janet Caldwell, one of our Online Today Digital Champions wrote a piece about her experiences of using NGT after she attended an event with BT.

NGT means that text relay is now available to use on a mobile phone, tablet or laptop, meaning that you can use it out and about. NGT enables relay operator assisted calls as well as text to text calls. To use NGT, you need to download an app called ‘NGT Lite’ to your internet enabled Smartphone, Tablet or computer. Sense has developed some guidance online which also has links to the NGT website where you can get more help or information and download the app.

The reason for this oldblog post is to let you know about an update to the NGT Lite app that will affect you if you are already using the service prior to 26 April 2016.

From this date, a new version of NGT Lite will be available to download from the Google Play store (for Android users), the Apple App Store and the NGT website. It is important that if you have an older version of the app installed on your internet enabled smartphone, tablet or computer that you update as older versions of the NGT Lite app will no longer be supported. For Android Users who are running version 4.0 (also known as ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’) you will need to update to the latest version of Android before the new NGT Lite app will work with your device.

Some devices will automatically update to the latest version of NGT Lite but to be sure you are up-to-date, select ‘Options’ and then ‘Help’ in the NGT Lite app.

The latest releases are:
• Android version 1.52
• iOS version 1.51
• Windows version 1.50

The new version of NGT Lite includes important security and stability updates as well as enhancing compatibility with Android 6.0 (also known as ‘Marshmallow’).

The NGT website has lots of help if you are having trouble updating or, you can contact the NGT helpline on 0800 7311 888 from a mobile or landline telephone, or call 0800 500 888 from a textphone or if using your NGT Lite app.

Mobile Phones and Synapptic Software

Steven Morris, Digital Champions Coordinator, Online Today project

With so many mobile phones currently on the market, finding the right one can be a bit of a minefield! Selecting which model best meets your needs can be doubly difficult if you are deafblind.

For this month’s technology oldblog, we are going to hear about the experiences of Sheila Anderson who works for Sense. Sheila is partially sighted herself and has had a 5 year long struggle to find the mobile phone that is right for her.
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Review: Fitbit Flex

Steven Morris, Digital Champions Coordinator, Online Today project

Following on from my oldblog in January where I wrote about my attempts to get fitter and track what I am eating with the ‘My Fitness Pal’ app, I’m back this month to write about my new toy, a Fitbit.

Fitbit Flex

The Fitbit Flex is a wrist-worn device which tracks the number of steps I’ve taken, how active I’ve been, the number of calories I’ve burned and also acts as a sleep tracker. You can motivate yourself by setting goals. For example, walk 10000 steps in a day or sleep 8 hours a night! You can even have competitions with your friends if they own a Fitbit. There is a daily showdown where you can see who among your friends has walked the furthest—I always come last! The information from the Fitbit is accessed either through the Fitbit website or via their apps for Android and Apple.

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Review: How accessible is the My Fitness Pal app?

Steven Morris, Digital Champions Coordinator, Online Today project

The New Year is often a time when people think about making resolutions. If you’re anything like me though, mine are usually broken by the end of January! But one resolution I’m determined to keep this year is to lose weight and get fitter.

In the past when I’ve tried diets, one of the most difficult aspects I’ve found is keeping track of what I’ve been eating and how much exercise I’ve done. There are many different diet websites and apps out there, and I’ve tried a few.

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