The Visual Brailler iPad app from APH is a handy app marketed as a "simple braille editor." It is meant primarily to provide visual users with a way to practice and produce braille. Users can use 6 on-screen keys to produce braille that appears in a text field. After completing their work, users can export their braille in .brl and .brf formats for embossing or translating to print. These are great features to have, and the app is free to boot!
Now, I have been searching for a tech solution that will let my braille learning students write and read braille in a digital and electronic manner and perhaps also have the ability to share brailled materials quickly with me. Just like on a manual Perkins braillewriter, I also want them to be able to produce braille dot for dot as it is input through 6 key entry, with no print translations or automatic use of contractions. This is important, because as they learn the braille code in its entirety, I want to be able to have them proofread for braille or spelling errors.
What I found myself curious with was the fact that APH stated in their documentation that Visual Brailler supported the use of refreshable braille displays. After a little tinkering around with Visual Brailler and my iPad's braille settings, I believe I worked out a solution for what I have been looking for, and here is how!
A refreshable braille display needs to be paired to an iPad. For example, I paired my APH Refreshabraille 18 to my iPad using bluetooth.
- In settings, go to General => Accessibility => VoiceOver => Braille => Choose a Braille Display
Set the VoiceOver braille display settings
- Set the Braille Display Output to Uncontracted Eight-dot. Though eight-dot mode is not a pure six dot experience like on a Perkins braillewriter, users will have the benefit of knowing where the cursor is in the text field.
- Set the Braille Display Input to Uncontracted Eight-dot.
To use the refreshable braille display to write and read braille, VoiceOver must be turned on.
- In settings, go to General => Accessibility => VoiceOver => Toggle the switch to turn VoiceOver on.
So, what exactly did I end up accomplishing?
Using my Refreshabraille 18, I can use the 6 input keys to braille whatever I want. If I braille dots 1-2-5 for the letter h, it appears on the screen as an h; it does not get expanded to the word have, its alphabetic wordsign. If I am writing a sentence, I have to input dot 6 before my first word to capitalize it, just like on a manual braillewriter; there is no autocorrect kicking in here.
To boot, as I braille into Visual Brailler, I can read what I have brailled immediately on my Refreshabraille 18. As I mentioned earlier, I expect to tell my students to check their work often on the braille display. Since the braille display output is set to eight-dot and a cursor is present, my students will also get early exposure to text editing concepts and the use of cursor router keys.
All in all, I wanted to share what I find to be a simple but likely motivating educational application for the Visual Brailler app. Though it was originally meant for braille transcribers, early braille learners may appreciate the use of technology over heavy and antiquated (though venerable as can be!) Perkins braillewriters. Moreover, the experience comes in a very compact and portable combination of equipment.
I hope this can be of help and interest to some of y'all out there!