Technology is available to enable access to a computer via braille or to produce braille. The three main categories of braille technology described here are:
Braille embossers print braille output from a computer by punching dots onto paper. They connect to the computer in the same way as regular printers. There are both personal and commercial embossers available on the market.
Before purchasing an embosser it is important to decide how it will be used, how often, how many pages need to be produced and so on.
Features which distinguish the different embosser models include speed, ease of operation, quality of the braille, single or continuous paper feed, sideways printing and braille graphics.
Embossing is very noisy, so consideration should be made if the embosser is to be located in a busy area.
Braille translation software
To produce correctly formatted and coded braille on a braille embosser you will need Braille Translation Software. A document prepared by a word processing program is loaded into the translation software and can be edited if necessary. The resulting braille document is then sent to the embosser to produce a hard copy in braille. Such software can produce either uncontracted or contracted braille.
The choice of which translation software to use with a braille embosser will depend upon whether you can read braille or not, and the nature of the material you wish to emboss.
Basic translation software can be very accurate for everyday printed material, but may not be suitable if specialist characters or layout are needed such as for mathematical, scientific or music notation.
Demonstration versions of braille translation software and information on braille embossers can be downloaded from the Internet.
Electronic or refreshable Braille displays
An Electronic Braille Display (refreshable braille display) is a tactile device which can be attached to a computer or connected via Bluetooth to some smartphones, and enables the user to read the contents of the screen using braille.
They can consist most commonly of 12, 20, 32 and 40 or 80 braille cells. Each cell has 6 or 8 nylon pins which are electronically controlled to move up and down to display a braille version of the characters that appear on the computer or smartphone screen.
Only 12, 20, 32, 40 or 80 characters from the screen are shown at one time so the displays have buttons or controls on them which enable the user to move the Braille display around the computer screen.
To gain full access to programs using a braille display on a PC you also need to purchase a screen reading program which supports the braille display. There are a number of screen readers on the market which can do this.
Refreshable Braille Displays can also be used with portable computers. The 20 and 40 cell displays are frequently used with portable computers and are battery as well as mains powered.
For further details phone Vision Australia on 1300 84 74 66 or visit your local Vision Australia centre.