Guest Post: Braille Literacy Canada Newsletter, March 2018


Newsletter ● March 2018


Message from the President


In response to feedback from our recent membership survey we have decided to add a regular update from the BLC president to each newsletter. So I’ll start this message by thanking all of you who completed the survey and provided helpful suggestions for ways to better serve our membership.


Many of you said that you enjoy the teleconferences on braille technology, so we are planning more of them for the future. We are also looking at ways to provide more code-related information (such as tips for transcribers working with UEB technical material, as well as UEB Code Maintenance Committee decisions). Another popular suggestion was to feature stories in the newsletter about braille use in everyday life. Our Communications Committee met last month to discuss how we can modify the newsletter to meet the needs of all of our stakeholders.


One final note on the membership survey: congratulations to Charlene Young, who won the draw for the gift certificate to the Braille superstore!



I’d like to take this opportunity to remind members of our upcoming AGM in Ottawa on May 26th. Note that you must have a valid membership for 2018 in order to be eligible to vote. Members can vote electronically or by proxy, and we are planning to stream the meeting as well. More information regarding the AGM is sent to members directly by email.


Many people asked why we did not choose to hold the AGM in conjunction with the Canadian Vision Teachers’ Conference. There are a number of factors to consider when choosing the date and location of this meeting. We are required to hold our AGM within a given timeframe based on our fiscal year and based on the length of time since the last annual meeting. Another issue is the cost of flying the BLC Board to Edmonton, which is where the conference is being held this year. When it is feasible to schedule our AGM in conjunction with another event or conference we are happy to do so.


International Council on English Braille (ICEB)

The midterm meeting of the ICEB Executive will take place in Dublin from April 17th to the 21st. The Irish National Braille and Alternate Format Association (INBAF) will be hosting the meetings. Phyllis Landon and I both serve on the ICEB Executive. I am the Treasurer and the Canadian representative. Phyllis chairs the UEB Code Maintenance Committee. At the midterm we will discuss a number of code-related issues, including the ongoing apostrophe/single quotes question. I will provide a report to BLC members at the upcoming AGM.


For more information on ICEB please visit


Directory of Transcribers and Proofreaders

BLC would like to establish a directory of certified braille transcribers and proofreaders. Whether you are a freelance transcriber or a producer looking to hire individuals with transcription or proofreading certification, we hope this directory will be a valuable resource. If you are a certified braille transcriber or proofreader and would like to be added to this directory please email


NAME THE NEWSLETTER – We Want to Hear from You!


Your BLC Communications committee is in the process of revamping the newsletter. We received some fabulous feedback from members who recently completed the membership survey and have some great new ideas to spruce up the newsletter for future issues! Among the coming changes, we plan to give the newsletter a catchy new name to go along with more braille related news features and updates from across the country. Future issues will continue to have something for everyone – braille readers, transcribers, educators, parents, and anyone else who loves all things braille dots.


We know there is a creative hive of readers out there – so we want to hear from you! DO you have an idea for a catchy name for the newsletter? Send in your ideas before May 1st, 2018: The BLC Communications committee will review all entries for consideration – and will announce the new name in a future issue. If the name you submit is selected, we’ll also reach out to you to learn more about your connection to braille and write up a short feature for an upcoming issue. Send all ideas to:


Membership in BLC


BLC membership coincides with the calendar year (January 1st until December 31st). If you are not yet a member or haven’t renewed for 2018, we invite you to visit


If you are a member you can:


  • Have your say: attend the Annual General Meeting
  • Get involved in the work of BLC: join one of our committees
  • Help to promote the use of braille in Canada
  • Participate in teleconferences on braille-related issues (free for members)
  • Receive our bi-monthly newsletter, as well as other communications, directly from BLC
  • Get answers to all your UEB questions: join our UEB listserv by sending an email to


In addition to individual personal membership, corporate membership is available for organizations who wish to support the work of BLC. Corporate member organizations can appoint up to two representatives who can vote during BLC meetings on behalf of their organizations and are free to join any of the BLC committees. BLC corporate members receive the bimonthly newsletter, can have their name and logo listed as a supporting member on the BLC website and other correspondences, and  all members of a corporate member organization  can attend our braille-related teleconferences free of charge. Have any other questions about becoming a member or about different membership benefits? Write to us at


Teleconference On Emerging Braille Technology


On Saturday, March 3rd, BLC held a teleconference highlighting three very different braille devices that will soon be coming on the market.


The Read Read

Alex Tavares presented the Read Read, the first device that allows visually impaired and blind children to practise phonics and braille. The Read Read consists of moveable tiles with large print and braille letters. The device also includes recordings of each letter, and audio feedback is provided whenever a tile is pressed. For more information or to pre-order, visit the following link:


Canute braille reader:

Ed Rogers presented the Canute Braille Reader, a multi-line braille display that is being developed by Bristol Braille Technology. This 40-cell, 9-line display is expected to sell for a price comparable to that of an iPhone.


To learn more, go to the following link:


Orbit Braille Reader:

Diane Bergeron provided an overview on the Orbit, a 20-cell display that costs approximately $500 Canadian. The Orbit can be paired with an iDevice, connected via USB or Bluetooth to a Mac or PC and can be used as a standalone notetaker. Diane noted that the device is undergoing some additional testing before it will be made widely available. For more details or to pre-order please visit the CNIB store at the following link:


BLC would like to thank Diane, Ed and Alex for taking the time to present these devices and answer our questions. Other displays and notetakers will be covered in future teleconferences, so stay tuned for more details!


The Timelessness of the Slate and Stylus

By Natalie Martiniello


I began learning braille in the first grade, and over the past 27 years, I have experienced first-hand the wonders of constantly evolving braille technologies. I could emboss hardcopy braille using my braille embosser. I could create electronic braille files using translation software. I could instantly read and write braille by hooking up a braille display or notetaker to my computer or smartphone. I still regularly use that handy Perkins brailler to jot down notes, phone numbers and make lists. But, regardless of how things evolve, there’s one tool I continue to carry around with me everywhere I go: that trusty slate and stylus!


The slate and stylus, much like the pen or pencil for the sighted person, will never become obsolete. It’s a handy tool that’s portable, small and doesn’t rely on batteries to work. It’s a quick and easy way to jot down a phone number or other quick notes on the go, and still an invaluable skill for a braille user to have.


What is the Slate and Stylus?

Braille dots within a cell need to be precisely spaced so that the person reading is able to accurately identify symbols. The stylus is about 2 inches long and has a handle that can be gripped with the index finger and thumb, and a metal point on the other end that can be used to punch raised dots onto a paper. The slate is a guide (usually made of metal or plastic) that ensures the dots are punched into the proper positions within each braille cell. It has hinges on one end and opens on the other end so that a piece of paper can be inserted inside. The top piece of the slate typically has four to six lines of small, evenly spaced openings that are the exact shape and size of the braille cell. The bottom piece of the slate is solid but contains indentations for each braille dot so that when the stylus is punched into the paper, precise braille symbols can be formed. Slate and styli come in many shapes and sizes. You can purchase pocket-sized slates and those big enough to jot down notes on an index card, or standard sized slates with four to six lines of braille, or full-page slates with up to 25 lines of braille. Slates and styli can be purchased from many blindness specialty stores, and are very reasonably priced (you can find most for sale for about $10). Check out this link from the Braille Superstore:


It’s Not Backwards!

Backwards sounds wrong. Backwards makes something simple seem unnecessarily difficult. Traditionally, people tend to incorrectly think that the slate and stylus requires the user to write “backwards”. IN fact, sometimes it’s introduced this way to learners which I fear leads the slate and stylus to seem overly difficult and complicated, especially for the new braille learner. You do write with a slate from right to left (because as you punch the braille dots into the paper, they appear on the opposite side of the sheet), but you do not write the braille symbols backwards. Dots 1, 2 and 3 are always on the first side of the cell, and dots 4, 5 and 6 are always on the second. I strongly recommend teachers (and users) to think of writing with the slate and stylus this way. This is a great short article that explains how to teach and use the slate and stylus, without thinking of it as writing “backwards”:


And this is a great guide for parents on using the Slate and Stylus:


Here’s a short YouTube video all about how to use the Slate and Stylus:


I love my Slate and Stylus! Over the years, I’ve collected many different kinds. It’s still so satisfying to hear the “punch” as braille letters are formed. In the past, before technologies were introduced, many braille users could write with a slate and stylus so quickly that they’d use it for note-taking in classes and during meetings – Pretty impressive! Are you one of those Slate and Stylus power users? Practice makes perfect, so nothing is stopping you from becoming one even today! But even if you won’t be joining the Slate and Stylus speedy Olympics, like me, you may still find it to be a very handy tool to add to your braille writing toolbox – and unlike some other devices – this one won’t talk back at you!


Do you use a Slate and Stylus? Write to us at to tell us how the Slate and Stylus helps you, who introduced it to you, and what kind you love to use the most. Here’s to the Slate and Stylus, the most portable braille writing tool available, invented by Louis Braille himself!


Travel and see things differently: Following the History of Louis Braille

By Mélissa Brière et Tommy Théberge, travelling companions


Editor’s Note: Tommy and Mélissa provided us with English and French versions of this article. The French follows the English.


Last August, we had the opportunity to travel to Paris with ten teenagers with visual impairments and five travelling companions from the Quebec Foundation for the Blind. The main purpose of this trip was to learn more about the history of Louis Braille. Wherever possible, activities were structured so that participants could make use of  all five senses.


Once in Paris, we visited the Panthéon, where the tomb of Louis Braille is located. Each participant had the opportunity to touch the tombs and learn more about how the braille code was created. The following day we went to Coupvray, a town near Paris where the Louis Braille museum is found. This museum is in fact the house where Louis Braille grew up in the 19th century. It was in this house that Louis Braille lost his vision at the age of three. In the museum, we had the opportunity to learn more about other tactile codes used by blind people before braille was invented. We also tried the decapoint or raphigraphy, the ancestor of the brailler.


We visited the Institut national des jeunes aveugles, a school dedicated to kids with visual impairment. Approximately 170 students from different academic levels study every year in this special school. It was summer vacation while we were there so the school was closed. They opened the school for us one day during our trip so we had the chance to visit and attend a private organ concert given by Dominic Levac, a blind organist. All participants really appreciated the private concert and the school’s 3D model of the solar system.


We also went to Père Lachaise Cemetery where we had an excellent guided tour. Many of you will probably think that visiting a cemetery when you are blind must be boring, but it isn’t. Our guide described the epitaphs and we had the opportunity to touch many of them. We heard soundtracks of the singers our guide talked about as well.


Finally, we visited the Musée des égouts de Paris. We learned about the water filtration system in Paris and smelled some odours … which were not as bad as we had expected. Throughout the week, we ate a lot of French bread, cheese and petits pains au chocolat.


For us, this trip was a unique opportunity to spend a wonderful week in Paris with a group of blind teenagers. The whole group learned more about the history of braille and its inventor, and had the opportunity to experience many popular attractions with all five senses.


Voyager et voir autrement : Sur la route de Louis-Braille


Mélissa Brière et Tommy Théberge, accompagnateurs


En août dernier, nous avons eu la chance d’accompagner un groupe de dix jeunes ayant un handicap visuel et cinq moniteurs de la Fondation des Aveugles du Québec dans le cadre de leur périple en France sur la route de Louis Braille. Ayant comme objectif de leur faire découvrir les origines du célèbre homme aveugle et de son fameux code d’écriture, les jeunes voyageurs en ont eu plein la vue.


Bien que plusieurs activités avaient un lien avec la déficience visuelle ou l’inventeur du braille, elles ont toutes mis nos sens à l’épreuve. Ainsi, participants et accompagnateurs ont pu bien profiter de chaque moment.


Une fois arrivés à Paris, nous avons eu la chance de visiter le Panthéon où se trouve le tombeau de Louis-Braille. Tous ont pu le toucher et en apprendre un peu plus sur l’invention du braille. Le lendemain, nous nous sommes rendus à Coupvray, ville en banlieue de Paris où a grandi Louis Braille. Sa maison a été transformée en musée. Nos guides nous ont expliqué comment Louis Braille a perdu la vue et comment il en est venu à créer un code d’écriture en relief. Nous avons eu la chance de voir et de toucher divers codes créés avant le braille en plus d’essayer le raphigraphe, l’ancêtre de la machine à écrire braille. Cela fut une occasion unique de toucher ces pièces historiques habituellement exposées derrière les vitrines.


Nous avons aussi visité l’institut national des jeunes aveugles, une école spécialisée. Près de 170 étudiants des différents niveaux académiques y étudient dont 120 sont pensionnaires. Lors de notre passage en août, c’était période de vacances estivales. Nous avons eu la chance qu’un membre du personnel de l’école de même que Dominic Levac, organiste aveugle nous fassent une visite guidée personnalisée. Parmi les coups de cœur de cette visite, notons la maquette reproduisant le système solaire en 3D de même que le magnifique concert d’orgue offert spécialement pour nous.


Nous avons aussi eu droit à une visite guidée du cimetière du père Lachaise. Plusieurs diront qu’une visite de cimetière lorsqu’on ne voit pas peut être plate, mais non. Notre guide a su nous décrire les différentes épitaphes, nous a permis de toucher et avait même des extraits sonores pour nous faire connaitre certains des personnages exposés.


Après avoir mis à contribution l’ouïe et le toucher, il était temps de faire appel à nos autres sens. Nous avons visité les égouts de Paris. Cette visite nous a permis d’en apprendre davantage sur le système de filtration des eaux parisiennes en plus de sentir les odeurs, qui étonnamment n’étaient pas si nauséabondes. Mais que serait un voyage à Paris sans baguette française, fromage et petits pains au chocolat ou sans diner dans un bistro du coin. Tous se sont régalés tout au long de la semaine.


Ce fut pour nous une occasion unique de passer ces six jours à Paris et d’accompagner le groupe. Nous avons pu en apprendre plus sur l’histoire du braille et de son célèbre inventeur en plus de nous faire découvrir les différents attraits touristiques de la ville sous une autre perspective en mettant tous nos sens à contribution. À quand une autre expérience sensorielle de la sorte?


Customizable Braille in IOS 11

By Kim Kilpatrick


With the arrival of IOS 11, there were definitely some good and bad things about braille. Some of these have been fixed while braille still remains buggy in some instances.


Braille translation while typing and braille losing its focus can still be problematic, although I have been assured that Apple is working on this issue.


However, one lovely feature was implemented with IOS 11. You can greatly customize braille commands and do everything from a braille display, including talking to Siri, opening Voiceover settings, and more.


In upcoming articles, I will go through in detail all of the possible types of keyboard commands you can configure. For now, I am just going to tell you how to get into this feature. Feel free to play and explore these settings.


You must have an electronic braille display paired with your device. To do this, turn on your braille display, (do not go to Bluetooth settings on your iDevice) go to Settings, General, Accessibility, Voiceover, Braille. Look for your display in the list of devices and pair it. Now, below your display a button shows up labeled “more info”. Double tap that. In the past, the only option there was “forget this device”. Now there is also a button that says “Braille commands”. Tap that and you are ready to explore all of the wonderful new features!


Braille is Everywhere!

By Karen Brophey




Braille is on our minds, and we make sure it’s under everyone’s fingertips, at the CNIB’s new GTA Community Hub in midtown Toronto.


  • Sewn-on buttons spell out words of welcome in jumbo braille (on the couch’s two pillows)
  • Our Book Nook is a cozy spot used by grownups and kids, to explore both DIY and commercially produced tactile and braille books
  • Push-on lights (4″ diameter) in sets of six make learning about braille fun, especially for sighted siblings! These lights boards are also frequently used to display ‘braille’ messages to passers-by via our storefront windows. At our first DAISY audio Book Launch we spelled out: ‘Book Love’ and during a recent tour to Apple Staff we spelled out ‘Hi Apple!’
  • Braille is integrated into all events. At our Tactile Haunted House of Fun, the ingredients for the Magic Potion table were labelled only in braille. At the Anti-Valentine’s Day Youth Slam we interviewed guests and sent them home with a personalized Haiku in braille.
  • A giant simulated braille alphabet poster is positioned right inside our front doors, a visual reminder to guests to appreciate the importance of braille
  • A fledgling Braille Club at the Hub is brainstorming ways to raise the profile of braille through partnerships with public libraries and other community organizations
  • Little Free Library – unlike most free book exchanges, we feature braille and audio books – visitors to the Hub are invited to take a book, leave a book


To celebrate the 100th anniversary of CNIB and highlight its role, since its founding, in literacy and the right of people living with vision loss to enjoy equal access to information, check out This online, fully accessible, multimedia exhibit has been created from CNIB’s rich collection of archives, artefacts and photographs, along with audio recordings and personal stories and testimonials contributed by Canadians who are blind.


We also invite you to join staff, volunteers, donors and community partners as we celebrate CNIB’s 100 years, at events across Canada, between March and June 2018!


Facebook Links


We at BLC post braille related events and news on our facebook and twitter pages! If you have a braille event or story you’d like us to advertise, let us know! Here’s a sample of what we’ve posted over the past month:


National Braille Press awarded the 2018 Touch of Genius prize to a company in India for their production of Braille Me, an affordable braille display.

Congratulations to the team! Read the announcement here:


Don’t miss this opportunity to learn different strategies and tools that can be used to create and modify accessible literacy materials. Register by April

2 to save! From the Perkins School for the Blind:


local teacher develops Navajo #braille code:


Did you know? The Great Expectations program at NBP offers FREE activities that bring picture books to life! Check it out:


Reading Adventure Time! is a free, teacher-centric, student-friendly app that includes activities and assessment to help students build reading skills. This app is available for free for anyone to use. However, its focused users are students in grades 1st -12th who are visually impaired and read #braille:


BrailleBlox is an electronic emerging braille game!


how cool is this? National Braille Press is now the home for The Princeton Braillists Collection. Read the story here!


Find out what’s in your Perkins brailler and how it’s constructed – thanks to the Australian Braille Authority for sharing this great video!


Building #braille blocks with the National Federation of the Blind:


Do your #braille students have trouble with spelling?


#braille signage should be in easy reach for people to find:


The January “Access World” issue from the American Foundation for the Blind features an article all about the low-cost Orbit

#Braille Reader!



Braille Literacy Canada




Job Opportunities: Jymico is seeking braille transcribers, proofreaders and tactile graphic designers

My name is Anne-Julie Thibeault and I am the director of marketing at Jymico.

We are currently searching for experienced braille transcribers, proofreaders and tactile graphic designers to join our dedicated and passionate team.

If you are interested, please fill out the form at the end of this message. For more information about our business, please visit our website at Thank you in advance for your time. If you have any questions do not hesitate to contact me by email or phone. Hoping to have generated your interest.

Best regards,

Anne-Julie Thibeault
Marketing director

Visit our new website jymico.comJymico
1 877 272-4553 #34
4545, 1st Avenue
Quebec, Qc G1H 2S8

Newsletter: Braille Literacy Canada, January 2017 Newsletter

[Braille Literacy Canada logo]
January 2017 ● Issue #5

Notice to B LC Members: Save the Date

Our next annual General Meeting (AGM) will take place in Toronto on May 6th, 2017. We recognize that not all members will be able to attend in person, so we will offer some options for participating electronically. These will include appointing a proxy or submitting an electronic ballot. A notice with more details will be sent out to members in the next couple of months. We look forward to seeing you there!

New UEB Listserv

If you are learning, teaching or transcribing Unified English Braille (UEB) and are looking for a place to post questions, Braille Literacy Canada (BLC) invites you to join our UEB listserve. Subscribers can post to the list, and all queries will be answered by code and formatting experts. Information and announcements relevant to UEB will also be forwarded to this list.

To subscribe to the discussion list, visit

Focus Group Announcement

As many of you may be aware, the federal government is currently undertaking a consultation process to inform the development of new legislation aimed at improving accessibility and removing barriers to the participation of persons with disabilities in all aspects of Canadian society. Public consultation sessions have been held in major cities across the country, but individuals and organizations are also permitted to make written submissions to the process.

The scope of these consultations is wide. Feedback is being sought to help determine the goals of the legislation, the approach it will take to improving accessibility, how standards should be developed, how compliance and enforcement should be handled, and what the government can do to support organizations in becoming accessible. More information on the consultation process generally can be found at
For more information on the scope and reach of the federal government’s regulatory power, please see:

Braille Literacy Canada intends to submit a position paper to the government outlining the importance of federal organizations ensuring that information is accessible and available in braille. To facilitate this, we would like to hold a consultation session with our members to gather input on what factors should be considered in this submission. Questions to consider may include:

(1) What arguments (academic, theoretical, practical, or otherwise) would you use to justify the importance of having access to braille from federally-regulated organizations for Canadians who are blind or deaf-blind?
(2) Should braille materials be on hand, available upon request, or, within a “reasonable” timeframe? If the latter, what would seem to be a “reasonable”
(3) In the reverse direction, should Canadians who are blind or deaf-blind have the right to submit documentation in braille to federally-regulated bodies?
(4) To what degree, if at all, should the legislation specify the standards to which braille is to be produced? What ‘standards’ should it adopt, and how?
(5) Should we attempt to solidify, through legislation (or regulation), Braille Literacy Canada’s (internationally recognized) role as the preeminent “authority”
for braille standards in Canada? If so, how?

Anyone interested in contributing to this discussion is invited to join us by telephone for a conference call on January 28th, 2016 between 1 and 3pm Eastern (10-noon Pacific, 11am-1pm Mountain, 12-2pm Central, 2-4pm Atlantic) or, alternatively, to submit written comments and feedback to
on or before January 28th, 2016.

If you would like to participate in the conference call, please e-mail
to register. Information on how to join the call will be sent to you a few days before the event.

We look forward to your participation on January 28th! If you have any questions or require further information in the interim, please feel free to email

BLC Committees

As many of you know, the work of BLC is done by committees. Here is a list of our current committees and their responsibilities. New members are always welcome!

For more information please send an email to

The web committee

* Maintains web site and social media and updates content with current events, resources and other items of interest.
* Works with other committees to update content as appropriate.

The membership committee

* Collaborates with the BLC treasurer and the Corporate Secretary to manage membership data.
* Ensures that email reminders are sent to those members who have not renewed their membership.
* Proposes options for increasing membership.

The communications committee

* Proposes options for increasing communication with BLC members and the general public.
* Prepares and distributes the BLC newsletter.

The braille formats committee

* Determines other guidelines that should be reviewed by BLC for use in Canada. Members of this committee must have a thorough knowledge of braille and must be familiar with issues specific to formatting.

The teaching and learning committee

* Conducts research related to braille instruction of children and adults.
* Seeks funding sources to support this research. Committee members should be employed as an educator of visually impaired students or be studying in the field.

The nominations committee

* Seeks candidates to fill vacant positions on the Board of Directors.
* Presents the slate of nominations to BLC members at the Annual General Meeting.

The braille promotion committee

* Proposes and implements activities to promote braille in Canada. The brailler bounce initiative is a project of this committee.
* Plans teleconferences on various braille-related issues.

The French braille standards committee

* Proposes and implements research and/or other projects pertaining to French braille in Canada.

The bylaws committee

* Drafts text for changes to BLC bylaws as appropriate. Previous experience with bylaw revisions is an asset.

Braille Screen Input on iOS Devices
By Natalie Martiniello

For people who are blind or who have low vision, one could argue that the built-in accessibility of Apple’s iPhone and iPad ranks among the most significant developments for our community since the year 2000. Based on universal design, Apple products led the way by demonstrating that technology could and should be accessible to diverse users from the start. Rather than retrofitting, universal design from inception has not only levelled the playingfield for those of us who are blind, but has also benefited users with perfect sight. After all, doesn’t everyone – sighted or blind – use Siri nowadays? And this is the point. When you make things accessible from the start, everyone wins. And the trend is catching on. Though Apple paved the way, other companies are following in their footsteps – Google’s Android, being one.

As someone who is blind and who has also taught clients who are blind, I have seen multiple examples of how this innovative technology can increase independence and opportunities. I have about 7 pages of apps on my iPhone. The true wonder and joy of all of this, for those of us who are braille users, is that all of these apps that are accessible with VoiceOver (the built-in screenreader on Apple products) can be used with a braille display. Suddenly, we have so much more access to braille – for learning, practicing and using it in our everyday lives. With the launch of the Orbit Braille Reader (sold by CNIB in Canada), the first low-cost braille display, access to braille information in this way is about to increase for many more people. Despite what mainstream news at times inaccurately proclaims, technology hasn’t replaced braille – it’s solidified its place in a truly exciting digital age!

As a Vision Rehabilitation Therapist, I’ve harnessed the power of this technology with braille learners – many of whom are adults and seniors, when possible. It allows us to access far more material than ever before, and enables braille learners to practice braille in ways that are so meaningful to them – writing a facebook post, a tweet or an iMessage provides instant satisfaction to many, particularly for those who are losing their vision and who are eager to reconnect with the social world. These are just some creative ways one might use a braille display (connected to an I-device) during lessons.

I’d like to use the remainder of this post, however, to describe the use of the on-screen braille keyboard. Since iOS 8, braille users can activate an on-screen braille keyboard that they can use in place of the regular, on-screen QWERTY keyboard that usually appears for typing. Though many blind users, myself included, can and do use the regular on-screen QWERTY keyboard, it can be somewhat cumbersome and time-consuming to use, since the letters need to be located and selected one at a time. The on-screen braille keyboard, in contrast, allows you to form braille letters directly onto the screen, which greatly increases writing speed.

I use the on-screen braille keyboard exclusively for all my iPhone typing, and can type quicker than most of my sighted friends because of it. It’s also a great way for learners to practice braille. Using the on-screen braille keyboard requires them to think about how braille symbols are formed and what dots are included – It can be a great way to reinforce the learning of braille letters while accomplishing meaningful and relevant tasks on an I-device. Plus, the built-in screen reader on Apple products provides instant audio feedback, which is a great motivator and learning support for students!

To activate the on-screen braille keyboard:
1. Select the Settings Application from the Home Screen.
2. Press the “General “button, found within the Settings main menu.
3. Press the “Accessibility” options button.
4. Press the “VoiceOver” options button.
5. Press the “Rotor” options button.
6. Find the Braille Screen Input function.
7. If Voiceover doesn’t say, “Selected,” double-tap on braille-screen input to add it to your rotor.

Though it’s beyond the scope of this article to explain the Rotor and how it works, I recommend this website which provides a very helpful explanation:

Once you’ve followed the above steps, you’ll also want to configure your braille-screen input to best meet your needs before using it for the first time. Visit this link to learn more about how to select uncontracted or contracted input, six or eight key entry, and the braille code you wish to use when typing. By default, the braille code that is used for Braille Screen Input is Unified English Braille:

Once you’ve added braille screen input to your rotor and configured the settings for the first time, the braille screen input will now be available to you whenever you’re within a text field and need to type. Simply perform the Rotor gesture to select braille screen input.

How to Type using On-Screen Braille Input: Once activated, there are two options for typing using braille screen input. Table-top mode (when your device is laying flat on any surface) allows you to use your index, middle and ring fingers for typing as if it were a Perkins brailler. Screen-away mode, which I prefer and find more reliable, is preferable for smaller devices (such as the iPhone). To use braille screen input in screen-away mode:

• Activate braille screen input in your rotor
• Hold your iPhone in landscape orientation (that is, with the screen facing away from you, and the home button to the right).
• Hold your iPhone using your thumbs on the top edge and your pinky fingers on the bottom edge of your device. Your Index, Middle, and Ring fingers should now form two vertical columns of three dots just like the dots in the braille cell.
• Imagine this braille cell in front of you before typing, with dots 1, 2 and 3 placed vertically on the left and dots 4, 5 and 6 placed vertically on the right. Press down the fingers that correspond to the dots of the symbol you’d like to form. For example, press down your left index finger (which should be located on the top left of your screen in landscape orientation) to form the letter “A”, and press your left index, right index and right middle fingers together to form the letter “D”.

Try doing the entire alphabet for practice!

Other useful gestures when using braille screen input in screen-away mode:
• Swipe with one finger towards the left to delete the previous letter
• Swipe with one finger towards the right to insert a “space”
• Swipe with two fingers towards the right to move to the next line (VoiceOver will say “new line”)
• Swipe with three fingers towards the left to switch to contracted mode (which allows you to type contractions).
Swipe with three fingers towards the right to move back to uncontracted mode.

Now, you can type in braille on your device wherever you are!

Braille: A Story of Personal Life-Long Empowerment
By Leo Bissonnette, Ph.D.

As we celebrate the contribution of Louis Braille and his impact on our individual lives today, this issue features articles that make a strong case for the value of braille. My story adds to this accumulated statement of empowerment and the need to keep braille relevant in the lives of the blind today.

Like so many others in the blind community, I have listened to audio books since I was able to operate the record player that used to store talking books back in my early childhood. Today I enjoy reading books on my iPhone, using my Victor Reader Stream, or sitting at the computer. As important as the digital age is to me, nothing has even come close to empowering me as a blind person the way braille has.

A Little About Me
I was born with low vision and started my education working in large print. Then my mother, who was quite the advocate in making sure that I received a good education and essential rehabilitation services, felt that braille should be a tool added to my toolbox. So I started learning braille in third grade while attending the Montreal Association School for the Blind. I quickly took to using braille right away, and have used it as my first tool, taken from my toolbox, on a daily basis ever since.
Back to the Present
These days, what with the portability and low cost of ebooks, it seems that braille is struggling to keep its place in the lives of the blind. The high cost of braille displays compounds the problem, making it easier to simply abandon braille, or perhaps relegate it to infrequent use. Does it really matter if Braille becomes a medium that exists only in the memories of older blind people? Is it time to move on to more modern and cost-effective ways of communicating the written word, or should we fight to bring braille back to the forefront of our collective consciousness? Why is braille still relevant today?

I believe braille is essential for good writing. I would not be the proficient speller I am today if I had not read hundreds of thousands of braille words over the course of my life. While any decent screen reader provides the ability to spell words and review lines of text character by character, it is virtually impossible to catch all formatting and spelling errors in a document with speech alone. Anyone who uses text-to-speech software at all knows all too well the frustration of deciphering b’s from d’s, and sorting out all of the words that sound alike but are spelled differently such as there and their.

When I really need to digest something I am reading, I will slow my speech rate down or transfer the content to an SD card for later reading on my braille display. I am constantly amazed at the number of errors I find in documents I am reading in braille that I did not catch with speech alone.

Would I want to go back to the days before I had my iPhone and portable book reader? No way. Am I as likely to use a slate and stylus today as I was 50 years ago—although I still carry one in my brief case just in case I need it? Probably not. Can I imagine what my life would be like if I never again read another line of text in braille? I don’t even want to dwell on the thought!

Exploring Braille Settings on iOS
by Kim Kilpatrick

This will be the first in a series of articles exploring the use of braille displays with iDevices.

In this article, I will briefly describe the braille settings and show you how to pair a refreshable braille display with an iDevice. Braille support for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, and iPad Mini is built into the screen reader which comes with your iDevice. This screen reader is called VoiceOver. Most braille displays work well with VoiceOver. You must use Bluetooth to pair a braille display with your iDevice. Unlike other Bluetooth devices (keyboards, headphones, speakers) braille displays are not paired in the Bluetooth settings but are paired in the VoiceOver braille settings.

Braille Settings
In Settings on your iDevice go to General, then Accessibility, then VoiceOver. You can also ask Siri to open VoiceOver settings. Double tap on Braille.

The settings are as follows (double tap each setting to explore its options):
1. Braille Display Output (this is what you read on your display). You can choose from uncontracted 6-dot braille, uncontracted 8-dot braille and contracted braille. Double tap on the one you want.
2. Braille Display Input (what you use when brailling with your display). Again, you can choose from uncontracted 6-dot braille, uncontracted 8-dot braille and contracted braille.
3. Automatic Braille Translation: When this is turned on, it translates braille contractions as you type. When it is off, it waits until you press space to translate the braille.
4. Braille Screen Input: This is for typing braille on the screen of your iDevice. I will discuss this in a future article.
5. Status Cells: This will also be discussed in a later article.
6. Equations Use Nemeth Code: You can toggle this off or on depending on how you feel about Nemeth code.
7. Show on screen keyboard: I will discuss this in a future article.
8. Turn pages when panning: This is also a toggle and I suggest you leave it on as when reading a book it will just keep going to the next page.
9. Braille Translation: In English braille your options are: English (unified), English (US) and English (United Kingdom)
10. Alert display duration: This will be discussed in a future article.
11. Choose a braille display: Verify that Bluetooth is enabled on your iDevice.

Pairing Your Braille Display
Make sure that your braille display is in Bluetooth or pairing mode. How you achieve this varies depending on your display (consult your braille display manual). Then, find your braille display in the list below the heading titled Choose a braille display and double tap on it.

Some displays pair automatically while others require a PIN to be entered. Check your braille display manual for more information.

Once the display is paired, it should stay paired.

When turning off the braille display and/or iDevice, lock the device first, then turn off the display. When turning them back on, turn on the braille display first then unlock your device. They should pair again without you having to do anything in the braille settings.

If you need help using your braille display with your iPhone, or have questions or topics you wish to be covered, let us know.

BLC on Social Media

Braille Literacy Canada is now on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn! Find us there to receive news about BLC and braille, to stay informed, and to join a network of others devoted to braille just like you.

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Braille braille refreshable braille.  Will it ever come down in price? 

Braille braille refreshable braille 
By Kim Kilpatrick 
I have been reading braille since I was six. It has always been extremely important and crucial for me to use braille whenever and wherever I can. 
Refreshable braille brought braille back into my life again after many years of little braille for me.

This was because I had a screen reader and audio books and was told I could not have braille text books and also that the screen reader on my computer would be enough for me to get things done.  
When I got braille back and could use it with a computer, I cried! 

The braille display hooked to my computer meant that I could turn speech off and just read and write in braille. 

The way I always wanted. 

 I was so moved to be reading and writing again. 
Apple has made it very easy to read and write braille with their I Devices and macs. They support most of the refreshable braille displays on the market. You can read and write braille (as I am doing now to create this post) with my Iphone and braille display. 
You can also use their braille screen input to type braille with your fingers directly on to the screen of your device. 
Exciting yes! If only android phones and devices would improve the program Braille Back so you could use contracted braille. But refreshable braille has been always very very expensive. 
Well out of the range of many people who would love to use it. 
Several projects are always in the works to bring down the price of braille displays. 
The expensive part at the moment is the technology of the braille cells. 
People are working on this. 
One example is a group in the article below. 
I would love to have a multi line, inexpensive braille display in the hands of all who would love to use it. 
Thanks also to braille literacy Canada for your great conference call about braille last weekend. 

 More about that in another post. 
Here is the link to the article.

You are invited to a teleconference hosted by Braille Literacy Canada on January 9 2016. 

You are invited  Teleconference – Braille In The 21st Century
Join Braille Literacy Canada for a teleconference on Braille in the 21st Century!


Are you currently learning, or thinking about learning braille? Are you an avid braille reader, or perhaps you use braille for specific tasks such as labelling household items? This workshop is for you! Listen to a panel of braille users discuss different themes related to “Braille in the 21st Century”, and learn what is new and exciting in the world of braille.


When: Saturday, January 9th, 2016 at 10 AM (Pacific), 1 PM (Eastern). The workshop will run for one hour.

Who: Both braille users and those learning braille

Where: By telephone. To register, write to before January 4th, 2016, and we will send you the information to join us.


This workshop will be moderated by Betty Nobel, Past President and current board member of Braille Literacy Canada. Speakers will cover the following topics:

1. “A Toolbox of Solutions: Braille and Low Vision” (Jennifer Jesso): Do


have low vision and are wondering how braille can complement print, what braille might offer to someone with low vision, and how to use braille alongside magnification and other tools? Jennifer Jesso, a braille user with low vision who also uses magnification and a screen reader, will be discussing how braille fits into her toolbox of solutions and her experience as a braille user with low vision.


2. “What Braille Means to Me: Ideas for Braille in Daily Living”

(Marilyn Rushton): Listen to one longtime braille user (and teacher of students with visual impairments) talk about the role braille continues to play in her life, and why she says it is not obsolete, even in an ever-increasing technological world. As a user and educator, Marilyn will draw on her own experiences to provide tips and examples of how you can use braille in your daily life. Whether you are an avid reader of books, simply require a way to identify household items, or are thinking about learning braille, you’ll love the experiences and resources she has to share!


3. “Where We’ve Been and Where We Are: Evolution of Braille

Technologies” (Diana Brent): The ways in which we access and interact with braille have, in some cases, drastically changed over the past few decades

alone: from a time when the slate and stylus and Perkins brailler were the only tools available to those who use braille, to the present when technologies can provide instant access to braille on both your computer and mobile devices. Diana, a braille user and technology expert, will draw on her own experience to discuss how braille and technology can work together, and will give us a tour of braille technologies over the years. Join Diana to hear all about it!


4. “Looking Ahead: Future Innovations in Braille Technology” (Natalie Martiniello):

The future for those who read braille is limitless. In the past two years alone, numerous new technologies currently in development or at the prototype stage are gaining greater attention, and will revolutionize the ways in which we access braille. From smart braille watches to affordable multiline braille displays – you won’t believe what is coming in the future of braille! Join Natalie as she discusses all the new and exciting tools that you will want to keep a finger on in the world of braille! Both a braille user and educator, Natalie will discuss how such new technologies can enhance both the ways in which we learn and use braille.


To register, write to by January 4th, 2016