I am always on the look-out for fun ways to teach/practice braille skills. For print students, there are literally hundreds of educational apps that encourage letter recognition, reading and writing. In this digital age, these apps not only teach reading and writing skills - they also teach critical tech skills! There are also apps that teach sighted students the braille basics; however, these apps are not accessible for student who are blind. Our braille students do not have unlimited options to the same types of motivating educational apps. Recently, iEnable released the Braille Tutor iOS app. This app is designed for both sighted and visually impaired people to learn and/or practice braille letters and contractions.
Braille Tutor uses UEB braille. The free version of the game provides 19 Grade 1 lessons, including letters, simple words and sentences Lesson 19 introduces Whole Word Contractions. There is a fee to access lessons 20 - 91 (Grade 2 UEB Braille) through an in-app purchase or you can purchase Braille Tutor + for $1.99 which includes all of the lessons. The paid version introduces the contractions in organized groups. These lessons are carefully grouped into bite-size chunks of information. Lesson 1 includes the letters A through E along with simple words made up of these letters.
Update! Update! Update! Use a Bluetooth Keyboard!!!
To play the game, simply listen to the direction. The first lesson starts with "Type: a". While the Braille Tutor lessons are not compatible with VoiceOver, there is an option of using a Bluetooth keyboard with this app. While the onscreen keyboard is challenging for students who are blind, the Bluetooth keyboard provides physical keys that are used like a Perkins-style keyboard. The Home row keys, "S, D, F" and "J, K, L" correspond with the braille dots "3, 2, 1" and "4, 5, 6". The game is self-voicing. Turn VoiceOver off while completing the lessons. If a mistake is made, the game will provide a hint with the dot numbers that you need to press. Visually, the braille cell on the screen indicates which braille dots are needed to create the letter. (Hints must be turned on in settings.)
If a mistake is made before pressing the Space bar, clear the entered dots by pressing the Space bar and the letter "d" (space + 1 + 4 + 5). Press the Return/Enter key to hear the last instruction (example: "Correct. Type: w").
Note: Type quickly! If there is a delay between entering the dots and pressing the space bar, a contraction might be added!
Teacher Hint: If an emerging reader is not yet ready to braille sentences, the student can choose to move to the next lesson after typing the individual letters and words.
User with vision can play the game using the onscreen Perkins-style keyboard.
For more information about Braille Tutor, go to the iEnable website.
No Braille Experience
If you are not familiar with braille, be sure to read the instructions before playing the game. The instructions provide basic information about braille and then information about the game. The instructions are on the screen when you first open the app. Before starting the game, go into Settings and adjust the speech rate. If you are not familiar with a screen reader, you will want to bring the speech rate closer to the left side of the slider (slower speech rate). Challenge yourself by increasing the speech rate! You can adjust the speech rate at any time while playing the game. The game is self-voicing, meaning you play the game without running VoiceOver, the iPad's built-in screen reader.
Braille Tutor is accessible with VoiceOver, meaning you can access the Information, Buttons, Lesson Menu and Setting with VoiceOver. The lessons themselves are self-voicing and are NOT compatible with Voiceover. I tried to type in the braille letter using a refreshable braille display, but the app did not respond when VoiceOver was running. When VoiceOver is off, the app responded as expected. (See Exploring Braille post for a beginning braille app that is accessible with a braille display.)
Braille Tutor Users
Braille Tutor is being used by sighted students and adults who are interested in learning braille. This group may include classmates, siblings, family members, classroom teachers, and future teachers of the visually impaired currently enrolled in training programs.
Braille Tutor is also being used by students and adults with visual impairments or blindness. This group may include preschoolers and young students who are emerging braille readers, students and adults who are low vision and may become dual media readers, students/adults who may have progressive eye conditions who may benefit from braille, and students/adults who have recently lost vision.
Braille Tutor paired with a Bluetooth keyboard can be used by anyone - sighted, low vision or blind!
Braille Tutor is also a great option for students who have physical issue. Pressing the Bluetooth keyboard keys is significantly easier than pressing keys on the classic Perkins Brailler. The Braille Tutor can also be used by students who have only have the use of one hand or even one finger, since the student can press individual keys one at a time, then press the space bar when done.
When in a lesson, the Settings button is located in the top right corner. The available Settings options are:
- Speech (on/off)
- Speech rate slider (adjust the speech rate)
- Spell (on/off)
- Voice (American, British, Australian)
- Key Color (magenta when on; dark blue when off)
- Key Effects
- Braille Cell View (on/off; shows visual braille cell dots for desired letter)
- Contraction Hints (on/off)
My Comments and Suggestions
This game is a fun way to learn and practice braille skills! The app is easy to use, has wonderful lesson plans divided into bite-sized chunks, and most importantly - the app is fun!
My suggestion is for braille input to work when VoiceOver is running. This would enable the use of braille displays - providing both braille input and braille output (writing and reading).