So Many Braille Displays, Which One is Right for My Student? Part Two

NOTE: Please see other posts in this series including

So Many Braille Displays Part One (focusing on the Brailliant BI 40 and BI 80 models)

So Many Braille Displays Part Three (focusing on the Braille Edge)

So Many Braille Displays Part Four (focusing on the Smart Beetle)

So Many Braille Displays Part Five (focusing on the Braille Trail Reader LE)

As mentioned in Part One of this series, one of the most challenging aspects of being a TVI is having to compare and contrast braille displays.  Each variety has advantages and disadvantages on its own, and deciding which unit meets the needs of your student just adds another layer to an already difficult decision. And let’s not even talk about pricing and how that can affect the choices that districts and families make…

What is the Brailliant BI 14?

The Brailliant BI 14, like the 40 BI and 80 BI models, is manufactured by Humanware.  Many of the features on the BI 14 are also found on the other two models, but the Brailliant BI has some additional features, which will be outlined below.  

photograph of the Braille Trail Reader LEWhat is the Braille Trail Reader LE?

You are most likely aware of the collaboration between Humanware and APH to make the Humanware Prodigi Connect 12 (known as the APH MATT Connect) available to students via Quota Funds.  This is a similar collaboration to make the Brailliant BI 14 available as the Braille Trail Reader LE.  Though there has been no confirmation, this author assumes that the two units are only superficially different (as the Braille Trail Reader has a red casing and the Brailliant BI 14 has black casing).  The functions are more than likely the same, though we will know more once the Braille Trail Reader becomes available.  

NOTE: For the purposes of this article, we will focus on the Brailliant BI 14 since that is the unit that is currently on the market.  Some information has been provided by APH related to the Braille Trail Reader LE and will be included where appropriate. 

Layout

On the front-facing side of the device are four keys.  From left to right:

  • Previous Thumb Key: Moves system focus to the previous item
  • Left Thumb Key: Pans the display to the previous 14 cells
  • Right Thumb Key: Pans the display to the next 14 cells
  • Next Thumb Key: Moves system focus to the next item

Brailliant BI 14 with thumb keys labeled: Previous Thumb Key, Left Thumb Key, Right Thumb Key and Next Thumb Key.

There are two items of interest on the left side of the Brailliant 

  • Near the back of the panel is the power button.  It is slightly raised and is used to power the unit on or off when pressed for three seconds, enters a settings menu when pressed and released quickly, and functions as a reset button when pressed and held for 15 seconds.  
  • The micro USB slot is located in the center of the left panel.  This is the port that is used to connect the display to a computer or to a USB AC adaptor (commonly referred to as a “brick” or “wall plug”).

On the rear, or back-facing part of the unit, is a terminal switch.  When the switch is positioned to your right, your unit can be used with any screen reader (mobile or computer).  When the switch is positioned to the left, you can access the onboard features included with the Brailliant BI 14 (described below)

The joystick and the keys you will use for braille input are on the top facing side of the display. Working from the device’s back edge and working towards you, the following buttons are present:

  • The Joystick, which is similar to that on the Refreshabraille 18 and can be moved up, down, right and left.  If pressed down, it functions like an activation button.  
  • The Standard Eight Key Entry Mode which includes the Perkins style keyboard found on a standard brailler with a spacebar and dots one through six is present.  In addition to the standard six entry keys, Dots Seven and Dot Eight are present.  
  • Dot Seven is located to the left of Dot Three and functions as a backspace key.
  • Dot Eight is located to the right of the Dot Six key and functions as an enter key or adds a new line to a document.
  • Below the Perkins Keyboard area is a 14 cell braille display.  Directly above each cell on the refreshable display is a small sensor called a Cursor Routing Sensor.  This places the cursor directly on that cell to allow the user to more easily edit their text.
  • At the bottom of the top panel (the portion closest to you) is the space bar.  

Menu, Applications, and Settings on the Brailliant

The Brailliant BI 14 display does have some functions that can be used without the need to “pair” it with a mobile device or PC.  These functions are called Applications and are accessed in the Menu Mode.  Likewise, the settings for the Brailliant BI 14 are located inside the Menu.  Settings and Applications are explained below.

Please note that it is most beneficial, since the Brailliant is not self-voicing, if the individual making adjustments to the settings is able to read braille.  If that individual does not read braille, or at least does not know the letters of the alphabet, it is recommended that they call Humanware customer support and get guidance walking through settings.  The user guide (see resource section at the bottom) contains simulated braille that may assist the non-braille reader.  

Entering and Navigating the Main Menu

To enter or exit the Menu, press and release the power button within a one second timeframe.

 Use the Previous/Next Thumb Keys or the Left/Right Joystick motions to navigate among Menu items. 

To activate a Menu item or change a setting (where permitted) you must press down the Joystick, press Enter, or press Space. 

Use of the Left/Right Thumb Keys or Up/Down Joystick allows you to change the Menu settings.  However, your options may vary depending on the type of setting on which you are focused. 

To exit the setting or Menu item, you may either press Space+ E (Dots One and Five) or Joystick Up.  

NOTE: Following is a list of settings only.  Applications will be discussed in its own section.

Settings in the Main Menu

Channel– Allows the user to toggle among “auto’, “Bluetooth”, and “USB”.  The most common settings is “auto”, which allows the display to detect the setting needed depending on whether it is plugged into a computer.

Watch– This non-editable application is only visible in Application Mode.  You may switch between time and date by using the Previous and Next Thumb Keys.  The time cannot be manually set and must be synced with the Brailliant Sync App (described below)

Notes – This is also an application only visible in the Application Mode.

Battery– Displays system battery level

Stop Watch– This is another application visible only in the Applications Mode.  

Connections– This setting allows you to switch among Bluetoothed or USB devices your Brailliant is connected to

Auto Power Off– Permits the user to choose when/if the device will power off after a certain amount of inactive time.  Options are three minuts, five minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes, one hour, and off.

Sleep–  Permits the user to choose when/if the device will go into sleep mode after a certain amount of inactive time.  Options are three minuts, five minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes, one hour, and off.  Press any key to wake the device from sleep mode.

Sound– Toggles the sound cues made by the unit such as the power on/off sound.  

Vibration– Toggles the vibration cues on and off.  When turned off, the user will not be notified by vibration when an action is performed (such as activation of a cursor routing sensor)

Cursor Sensor–Allows the user to adjust the sensitivity of the Cursor Routing Sensors from 1 (meaning they are not as sensitive and may require a bit more pressure) to five (meaning very little pressure is needed to activate the sensor).  It can also be set to off, meaning that use of Cursor Sensor is disabled.  Humanware recommends that you experiment with this setting to find the most comfortable one for you.

Cursor Vibration-Allows the user to adjust the length of the vibration emitted when a Cursor Routing Sensor is activated.  Like the Cursor Sensor setting above, the Cursor vibration may be set from 1 (meaning the vibration is at its shortest when the sensor is triggered) to five (meaning vibration will be at its longest when the sensor is activated). It can also be set to off, meaning that Cursor Sensors will not cause the display to vibrate at all when activated. Humanware recommends that you experiment with this setting to find the most comfortable one for you.

Computer Braille– Toggles among 8-dot computer braille table and various other options. These would be set only within the Standalone Applications on the Brailliant BI such as Notes.  To set defaults when paired with a devices, use that device’s screen reader settings.

Literary Braille– Toggles among a standard 6-dot literary braille tables. These would be set only within the Standalone Applications on the Brailliant BI such as Notes.  To set defaults when paired with a devices, use that device’s screen reader settings.

Default Braille– Allows the user to choose whether the Computer Braille Table or Literary Braille Table is used by default in Brailliant BI Standalone Applications such as Notes.

Language– Switches between a list of selected languages.

One-Handed Mode– Allows the unit to be used in one-handed mode.  Your display will remind you if your unit is set to one-handed mode when the device is starting up.  

About– This option displays the unit’s firmware version and serial number.  There is also an option to start an upgrade, but please be sure NOT to shut down your unit during this process since it will probably render the unit inoperable until sent in for repair.  

Applications in the Main Menu

As mentioned in the section above, the Brailliant BI is unique among Humanware displays because it has its own set of built-in applications.

If you have used the Orbit Reader 20, you may be familiar with some of this setup.  If not, the applications are described briefly below.

Watch

The Watch Application displays the time (as defined with the last device your Brailliant BI 14 was synced to using the Brailliant Sync App. The app will be described below.

Notes

The Notes application is a very rudamentry notetaking area.  It has a folder organizational system much like the Orbit Reader 20.  

Folders can be created from the Brailliant Sync App.  They can also be organized by device or account. Folders may contain files that were initially created in that account.  At times, folders may be empty.

In the table below are the editing commands that may be used:

Editing function

Shortcut key

New note

Space + N

Delete note

Space + D

New line

Enter or Joystick action

Backspace

Backspace or Space + B

Previous line

 Space + dot 1, joystick up

Next line (paragraph)

 Space + dot 4, joystick down

Previous word

 Space + dot 2

Next word

 Space + dot 5

Previous character

 Space + dot 3 or joystick left

Next character

 Space + dot 6 or joystick right

Begin of the note

 Space + dots 1-2-3

End of the note

 Space + dots 4-5-6

Save without exit

 Space + S

Save and exit

 Space + E

Exit without saving

 Space + Z

Switch Computer/Literary Braille

 Space + dot 1 + dot 2 + dot 4 + dot 5

 

Stop Watch

The Stop Watch is a very simple application built in to the Brailliant BI 14.  To start or stop the time, press the space bar.  To clear the stopwatch, press Space + C (dot 1 + dot 4)

The Brailliant Sync App

Notes created on the Brailliante BI 14 or on your iPhone may be synced to allow for a smoother editing experience across devices.

You will need to download the Brailliant Sync App from the Apple Store (please note that it is not, as of this writing, available in the Google Play store).  

Once the app is set up (for detailed instructions please see the user guide linked in the references section) notes can be synced so that changes made on the Brailliant will be synced to your iPhone and visa-versa.

One thing to keep in mind is that the sync is a two-way street.  If a note is deleted on one device, once they are syned again, the note will disappear from the other device.  It is NOT simply downloading or uploading content.  

Specific instructions on how to set up your device and how to perform syncing actions are available in the resource section.

Of note is that APH has mentioned that there will be an application to use the Braille Trail Reader with a Window's PC.  Although at this time, we don't know what the setup looks like, we are told that backtranslating with this unit will be much easier than it was with the Orbit Reader 20. 

Pairing With an iOS Device

When pairing with an iOS device, such as an iPhone or iPad, you will need to pair it via Bluetooth in the VoiceOver settings. Please see the resource section for further information since versions of the software may affect how connection is established.

Generally, all commands for braille displays and iOS devices are similar since it is the screen reader, not the device, that determines how the two interact.  

Pairing With a Windows Device

The Brailliant cannot run on your PC without the use of  JAWS or NVDA. At this time, Narrator is in the beta testing stage of providing braille support, but it is not yet stable.  The units can be paired with iOS device using VoiceOver or Android Devices using Accessibility Suite (which contains BrailleBack).

The PC screen readers themselves do not provide the driver for the Brailliant BI 14.  Humanware’s support page has the most current versions of the drivers available for download (see the link in the resources section).  

Initial setup for use with a Windows device requires some testing and when working with any sort of networked computers installing drivers and/or accessing them can be a challenge.  In the previous article, we mentioned that making friends with your network administrator is generally a good idea and providing edible bribery items is generally a good place to start.  For users of non-networked PCs (such as your home computer) there are fewer obstacles.

Each screen reader handles the braille display just a bit differently.  For setup (such as braille translation code, cursor blink rate, and other settings), you should consult your specific screen reader’s user guide.  More information is also available in the resources section below. 

However, Insert+1 in either screen reader will enter “Keyboard Help”, which echoes each keystroke and speaks its function.  This can be incredibly useful when learning a new braille display.  

As noted above, the Braille Trail reader will come with a Windows software componant to assist in file transfer and backtranslating.  At this time, we are unsure whether the Braille Trail Reader will work with the Brailliant BI Sync App. 

Overall Impressions

In general, the Brailliant displays are well built and sturdy. There are cases for the displays (sold separately) that are quite well made and provide extra protection.  

The limitation of the display to only 14 cells is a bit concerning, but this is partly what has helped to keep the cost of the device down. It also increases the portability. On the positive side, the size might be perfect for young children or those with smaller hands. 

For those who liked the joystick on the old Refreshabrailles (myself included because I seriously loved that feature) the joystick on the Brailliant BI 14 functions much the same way.  It is a very intuitive way to navigate.  

The Cursor Routing Sensors are an interesting touch. It remains to be seen how students will like using those as opposed to the old Cursor Routing Keys that required you to physically press on them.  As with anything, it will likely depend on the student.  

The Notes Applications on the Brailliant BI 14 is quite similar to the Standalone operation of the Orbit Reader 20. And like the Orbit Reader 20, the Brailliant BI 14’s Notes Application is a very “bare bones” system and does not include a spell check function and does not allow formatting such as underlining and bolding of text.  As with the Orbit Reader, it is generally recommended that no major word processing be done on the Brailliant BI 14 itself, though notes synced with other accounts could be further edited on the phone using the display in terminal mode.  But if the Brailliant BI 14 is only being used to take notes and maybe do some simple writing, it is certainly acceptable.

Related to the above comments, it will be interesting to see how the Braille Trail Reader's Windows software package works both in regard to backtranslating and file transfer but in this author's opinion, it can only be an improvement over the Orbit Reader.

The adoption of the Brailliant BI 14 as the Braille Trail Reader by APH will likely affect how many TVIs and districts choose to abandon the Orbit in favor of the Braille Trail Reader.  There are certainly drawbacks in doing so, such as the loss of six braille cells and the decreased cost of the Orbit.  However, the Braille Trail Reader’s inclusion of Cursor Routing Sensors and the much quieter refreshable display may be worth the cost of transition.

Upcoming Articles

It is hoped that next month, we will be able to provide some more in depth infromation on the Braille Trail Reader LE.  Please keep checking the Paths to Technology Blog for updates as they are released. 

Resources:

Download Brailliant BI 14 Firmware Update Tool

Download Most Recent Brailliant BI 14 PC Drivers

Brailliant 14 FAQ(.doc) 

Brailliant 14 User guide(.doc) 

Brailliant 14 with Screen Reader(.doc)

Brailliant BI 14 Quick Start Guide (.doc)

Brailliant BI 14 Audio Tutorial (MP3)

Brailliant BI 14 YouTube Playlist