Active Braille

The Active Braille is a forty-cell refreshable braille display with cursor router keys, a Perkin’s style keyboard, two triple action keys, and two spacebar keys created by Help Tech, a German company. HIMS Inc. is Help Tech’s national distributor. On the left side of the display is a Micro SD card slot. The power button is located on the right side of the display. The forty-cell display is concave, which is unique to Help Tech devices. Additionally, the individual braille cells are curved, allowing the fingers to move across them in an angular fashion rather than the straight and rigid motion required by standard braille displays. On either side of the refreshable display is a triple action key. A triple action key is when two keys are positioned vertically above one another and pressing in the middle of them on the line activates both keys simultaneously, thus producing a third function. The braille keyboard includes dots 1 to 8, dot 7 functioning as the backspace key, and dot 8 as the enter key. Located below the Perkins style keyboard are two spacebars, situated so as to be pressed by either thumb. This redistributes the hand placement on the keyboard from the normal typing orientation, lending itself to a more ergonomic typing style.

The Active Braille has Bluetooth connectivity to pair it with a computer, laptop, smartphone, or tablet. Based on the manual, it is compatible with both Windows and Mac OS, as well as iOS. Some of the built-in features include a simple notetaker, a calculator, Helptech’s proprietary music braille feature, and Active Tactile Control (ATC). ATC technology enables the braille display to sense what cell the individually currently is reading. When the individual reaches the end of the display or last raised braille cell, the braille automatically refreshes. When reading with ATC enabled, an individual’s reading speed may increase because he/she does not have to continuously push a scroll key to advance to the next line of braille. Additionally, HTCom, the program that comes shipped with the device, can be installed on any PC to record ATC data. This powerful tool allows teachers to visually graph and understand the student’s reading habits. HTCom tabulates and renders recent reading activity according to speed, number of characters read over time, number of words read over time, what letters or characters caused pauses or reversals, pressure upon the display and many other factors. This data when plotted over time is a comprehensive way of showing student reading trends.

The Active Braille was trialed with an 8thgrade student as part of his Assistive Technology Assessment, along with four other refreshable braille displays. The student used the Active Braille as a stand-alone device, using the simple notetaker as well as a refreshable braille display when paired to an iPad. 

After one trial, the student independently powered the Active Braille on and paired it with his iPad. He used iOS braille display commands to navigate between apps, locate folders and files, read documents, as well as write and edit documents using Google Docs. He also accessed website and assignments in Google Classroom. The student was excited that the ATC could be enabled while using it as a display paired with the iPad, as well as when reading files saved on a Micro SD card when used as a standalone device. Given oral reading rates obtained using different braille display, the student read 15 to 20 words per minute faster when using the ATC technology compared to other 40 cell displays where he had to continuously needed to push a scroll key to advance to the next line. He read 56 to 58 words per minute (wpm) using other 40 cell refreshable braille displays but read up 78 to 83 wpm when ATC was enabled. 

Given initial instruction using the Active Braille, the student independently navigated to File, created, wrote, and saved a new file, as well as located the file he created. He enabled ATC when reading files. The student independently selected text by pushing the cursor router key twice at the beginning of the selection and once at the end. He used the commands to cut, copy, and paste text. The student also opened files from the Micro SD card onto his Chromebook by changing the file format to a .txt file. The text rendered correctly, but specific braille symbols such as period, capital sign, and the “er” contraction did not render correctly when the file was changed to a .txt file. With minimal verbal prompting, the student unpaired and repaired the Active Braille refreshable braille display and iPad, as well as pasted text from the notepad into a Google Doc using the command Backspace + Space + E. The student taught another teacher about the Active Braille. He independently demonstrated all previously learned skills: navigating the main menu, creating, save, editing, and locating files, enabled ATC using the command Backspace + Space + Enter + A, as well as pairing the Active Braille to his iPad. With prompting, he pasted text from the Notepad to a Google Doc on his iPad. 

The student reported that he liked the concave display because it provided a more natural position for reading braille. Throughout the assessment process, he repeatedly shared that it was “easier to read braille because of the curved braille display.” He also shared that he preferred the position of the braille keys above the display and the spacebar keys below the display, which were more ergonomic compared to other displays such as the Orbit 20 Reader. The student reported it was easy to use the notepad and pair the Active Braille to the iPad. He liked enabling ATC when reading because it increased his reading speed, thus having a positive impact on his confidence when reading. The only drawback to the device was that it was difficult for him to push the triple action button between the right and left sides of the display. 

Another noteworthy feature the student preferred was copying and pasting text from a file on the device directly to a word processing document on the iPad. To do this, the student used the command Space + M to unpair the Active Braille and iPad. He opened a file, selected and copied text, and then made sure the focus of the cursor was within the content of a word processing document on the iPad. The student repaired the Active Braille with his iPad by navigating to PC mode and pressing enter. When the Active Braille was paired, he used the command Backspace + Space + E to paste text direct into the Google Doc. 

Below are links to the Help Tech website and Active Braille User Manual.