BrailleBuzz App Review

Teachers are buzzing about APH's new beginning braille letter app, BrailleBuzz! This is a sister app to the popular stand-alone BrailleBuzz toy. Both games include exploring braille letters and hearing either the braille letter dot combinations or hearing the letter sounds (phonics). Both games have the 6-key Perkins style keyboard to input braille letters. The BrailleBuzz app goes a step farther as it can be paired with a braille display enabling students to feel the braille letters as select or type a letter!

The BrailleBuzz app is a terrific tool to introduce braille literacy to future braille readers. These interactive games are designed to encourage young students to explore braille letters - no prior braille or letter knowledge required! Just like the numerous alphabet toys and apps available for students with vision, BrailleBuzz introduces basic letter concepts through gamification. Young students break out in giggles when they hear the fun sound associated with each letter and will press the desired braille dot combinations again and again. And, students who use the BrailleBuzz app are also being introduced to simple tech skills!

BrailleBuzz Settings

Before playing the game, be sure that these settings are selected!

Select uncontracted 8-dot braille

Settings > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Braille > Output > Uncontracted Eight-dot

Settings > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Braille Input > Uncontracted Eight-dot

BrailleBuzz Screen Layout

BrailleBuzz has one simple screen layout. At the top of the screen is a text field that either displays the selected letter or the letter that the student has brailled.

Below the text field are two rows of letters in alphabetical order. The black letters are on top of yellow honeycomb-shaped buttons.

At the bottom of the screen are three large buttons: Phonics, Letter, and About. When selected, the button is dimmed.

BrailleBuzz App Games

The BrailleBuzz app is designed to be used with VoiceOver, Apple's native screen reader. There are two game types: Phonics and Letter. When Phonics mode is selected, students hear the letter name, letter sound, a word that begins with that letter, and then a sound associated with the word. Example: "M makes the letter sound 'mm' as in 'monkey' (monkey sounds). When the Letter mode is selected students hear the letter name and then the dots that make up the braille letter. Example:  "M, dots 1,3,4."

BrailleBuzz and VoiceOver Gestures

BrailleBuzz can be played using VoiceOver Gestures. Select the desired mode: phonics or letter. Right swipe to hear a letter and double tap to select the letter. Even better, ask the student to drag his/her finger from letter to letter and then split tap to select the letter. 

Note: Drag is a critical tech skill for students with visual impairments. Dragging around the screen provides opportunities to develop spatial concepts such as the letter "a" is on the left side of the screen, top row; the letter "z" is on the right side of the screen, in the bottom row of letters. The ability to drag in a straight line across the page is a pre-reading skill and a tech skill. Split Tap is the used with the drag gesture - drag a finger to the desired letter and hold the finger on the letter while dropping a second finger to the screen. This will select the item. Young students often find that the split tap gesture is physically an easier gesture to make then the Double tap gesture.

The video below demonstrates how to use BrailleBuzz with VoiceOver gestures.

BrailleBuzz and Braille Display

Pair your braille device with your iPad by going into Settings > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Braille > scroll to the bottom of the screen to Choose a Braille Display. Select the name of your braille display. (Your braille display must be on and in close proximity to the iPad. Some braille displays have a code which has to be typed in, while other braille displays do not. The braille displays that are also notetakers may have additional settings on the braille display itself; check your braille display's manual for details.) Braille displays require that VoiceOver is on in order to use the braille display with the iPad.

When using a braille display with the BrailleBuzz game, the selected letter will appear on the braille display. 

There are several ways to use the braille display with BrailleBuzz.

  • Select the desired mode. Let's start with Phonics Mode.
    • Use the joy stick to the right or dot 4+space to swipe right to the next letter. Listen to VoiceOver say the letter and feel the braille letter on the braille display.
    • Use the joy stick to the left or dot 1+space to swipe left to the previous letter. Listen to VoiceOver say the letter and feel the braille letter on the braille display.
    • Select the desired letter by pushing the joystick in or by pressing dots 3+6+space. Listen to the phonetic auditory clip.

  • Select the Letter mode and repeat the activities above.

The video below demonstrates how to navigate and play the BrailleBuzz games with a braille display.

Emerging readers should also have opportunities to "scribble" - to press dot combinations and hear what they are. Choose the Letter mode. To input braille dots/letters, the VoiceOver focus must be on the text field.

  • Move to the text field: Simply touch the text field at the top of the page or press 1+2+3+space.
  • Activate the text field: Double tap on the screen, press the joystick in or 3+6+space.
  • Simultaneously press the key combinations to make a letter.

Repeat inputting braille letters in Phonics mode.

Quiz game: If a teacher or family member wants to "quiz" a student on his/her letters, mute VoiceOver's speech with a three-finger double tap gesture. Touch a letter on the screen. The letter will appear on the braille display but VoiceOver will not announce the letter. (Do not select the letter with a double tap or split tap as this will announce the letter; simply touch the letter.) The student can read the braille letter on the braille display and name the letter and/or dot numbers. Three-finger double tap will toggle the VoiceOver speech back on.

Command Hints

  • To move quickly to the text field, press dots 1+2+3+space.
  • To move quickly to the three buttons (Phonics, Letter, About) at the bottom of the page, press dots 4+5+6+space, then joystick left or dot 1+space.
  • To toggle VoiceOver speech on and off, press M Chord (1+3+4+space).

Note: Educators, family members or peers with vision can also use the BrailleBuzz app to learn and practice braille letters. The BrailleBuzz Phonics and Letter games can be played without VoiceOver; however, to input braille with a braille display, VoiceOver must be on.

The video below demonstrates how to "scribble" and input braille letters using a braille display and how to identify braille letters on the braille display.

Trouble Shooting

If the full onscreen keyboard appears on the screen: Remove the onscreen keyboard by selecting the Hide keyboard button. (Remember, with VoiceOver on, touch the Hide Keyboard key, then double tap.)

If the bar appears at the bottom of the screen: Typically, when the text field is selected, the bar at the bottom of the screen appears. Currently, the game works best with that bar on the screen. You can remove the bar; however, you may have  trouble inputting braille into the text field. (Try pressing the joystick in or dots 3+6+space to move the insertion point; this may solve the issue of not being able to insert the braille letters.) It is recommended to leave the bar at the bottom of the page for easier game play.

To remove the bar at the bottom of the page:

  • Select the Dismiss button in the bottom right corner of the screen by touching it, then double tapping.
  • The focus should still be on the text field (if not, navigate to the textfield). Double tap, press the joystick in or press 3+6+space to edit.

Screenshot of BrailleBuzz App with annotated arrow pointing to Dismiss button in bottom right corner.

If you are in the text field and strange things happen (Example: Press C (dots 1+4) and the focus jumps to the Phonetics button), Quick Nav is on. Press Q Chord (dots 1+2+3+4+5+space) to turn Quick Nav off. You should hear a descending tone when Quick Nav is turned off. Press Q Chord again will turn Quick Nav On - you will hear an ascending tone. Quick Nav must be off in order to type in the text field!

Resources

BrailleBuzz is available for iOS and Android devices. It is a free APH app. BrailleBuzz should work with any braille display. It is recommended to use a simple small braille display (14-18 characters) with young students. Braille displays which are also braille notetakers may require additional commands to put the braille display in the right mode to work with your device.

BrailleBuzz in the App Store 

BrailleBuzz in Google Play

BrailleBuzz information on the APH website

BrailleBuzz (toy) post

 Split Tap post