How to choose a braille display? Blind experts shared their experience with typhlotechnics

The Braille display is a key means of rehabilitation for the blind and deaf-blind. Dozens of companies around the world produce its various variations with a very different number of cells, the possibilities of integration with electronic devices and other features of work. Everyone who has been actively using the Braille display for a long time recommends that you carefully and carefully approach your choice of display.

In the February issue of Tiflostrim, four leading Russian experts on tiflotechnics met on the air at once, using Braille displays for work and life for many years. An hour and a half transmission was entirely devoted to these devices. Who needs a braille display and why? How not to make a mistake when buying it? What specific device to choose and how to use?

The guests of the program answered these questions:

  • Sergey Fleitin, former Secretary General of the European Union of the Deafblind, Acting Vice Chairman of the Krug Creative Union Charitable Foundation.
  • Andrey Polikanin, linguist, translator, programmer, specialist in the field of adaptive technologies for the blind and visually impaired.
  • Pavel Kaplan, an expert of the Israeli company Tashar Gaash, which provides a number of services for the blind and visually impaired.

The leader of Tiflostrim was traditionally Oleg Shevkun.

Guests of the program said that the Braille displays appeared in the 90s of the XX century, but they were widely used only now.

“My first passing acquaintance with the Braille display happened in the Smolensk library for the blind. I immediately liked the ability to interact with the computer by touch. Before that meeting, I used the voice-based screen-access program – that is, I could only work on the computer with voice. And then they showed me twenty cell device, huge and unbearable. But you could work with him. I tested it for about 10 minutes and was very impressed. And then I found out how much it costs and forgot about Braille displays for many years, ”said Sergey Fleitin.

“The first Braille display I also recognized in the 90s, in completely dead times. But he could only work with him in 2000 in Paris, where some kind of tifloconference took place. Like Sergei, I heard the price and reconciled with the fact that for many years I could not afford it. Although the dream of working with a computer by touch always remained with me, ”Andrei Polikanin supported his colleague.

The price of the device is a stumbling block in modern realities. Although Braille displays have long been mass-produced, and their cost has decreased significantly – not everyone can afford such a rehabilitation tool. Therefore, it is very important to choose exactly the device that you need. And before that, to understand – for what exactly and is it necessary at all?

“In Israel, I have come across many times when people buy a braille display and put it on a shelf. The fact is that there they are sold at gigantic discounts. And people who have just mastered Braille, but do not use it at home or use it very rarely – read the name of the medicine on the package – for them displays are just the interior of the furniture. Their reading speed is very low and they simply cannot use the device for its intended purpose, ”said Pavel Kaplan.

According to the expert, the main thing is not the ability to get a device, but the motivation to learn Braille. Indeed, without it, the presence of a display will not change a person’s life.

Sergey Fleitin, for the most part, agrees with a colleague. According to him, blind people are no different from sighted people. Among them, for example, there are those who do not read books. They only need a TV, YouTube to kill time. The same is true among the blind. Someone is developing, but someone does not want to do anything. Therefore, there are certainly a lot of people who do not need a braille display.

“But I look at the problem from a slightly different angle. Not only do I work for a company that sells Braille displays, but I also do community service — I help a special category of people with disabilities — deaf-blind people. And so they really need such a device. Many of them began to learn Braille while still seeing, realizing that they would soon lose their vision (this happens with Usher syndrome). At first, they used primers for the blind, but then the process stopped because they still did not know how to read Braille well, there was no line-to-line font, and finger sensitivity was low. And when such people fall into the hands of the Braille display – only one line makes a breakthrough in their training, ”Sergey Fleitin shares his experience.

But Andrei Polikanin is more categorical. According to the expert, in practice in the conditions of the CIS countries, Braille displays are needed only for those who work with texts – translators, programmers, broadcasters, journalists and others who read and type texts. If a person does not know Braille well, for example, because he has become blind in adulthood, then for him acquiring a device is a risk of throwing money away.

Pavel Kaplan, in turn, emphasizes that the Braille display cannot be considered as an independent means of rehabilitation. It is more like a monitor for a sighted person. The display, like the speech synthesizer, is used only in combination with a screen access program. And much depends on a person’s ability to use this program, as well as on the whole, on his computer literacy.

Another issue that has long become an acute market problem is the choice of the Braille display, or, according to Oleg Shevkun, its complete absence. As a rule, a blind person buys what they are offered, and does not choose a specific model of a particular manufacturer.

Andrei Polikanin admitted that he had already gotten into it one time. He received his first display for free, falling under a charity distribution. But then the screen access program changed and it turned out that the device was not adapted to it. The expert has already acquired the next display at his own expense.

“The Braille display is an expensive rehabilitation tool that is purchased for many years to come. My first display, when his board flew, was only 7 years old and this one is very small – I was not lucky. All experts will confirm that the display should last much longer. Their service life is 20-30 years. I know the story of the device, which is 35 years old, it has already got dull iron points, but it continues to work and faithfully serve its owner, ”says Pavel Kaplan.

According to the expert, the most universal display option is 20 or 24-cell. This is convenient to use when working at a computer and when interacting with a mobile device. It is small, compact, fits into any bag. If a person needs a display for stationary work at a computer, then Pavel Kaplan recommends 24, 32, or 40-cell devices. They are more expensive, but it will be very convenient with them.

“And I think that any Braille display is better than none at all. It all depends on the financial capabilities of the person. In my environment, most people now use mobile devices and many are happy with the capabilities of the 14-cell display. It is as compact as possible, it can be used in almost any situation. However, there are people who recognize only a 40-cell device and use it even with their iPhone. These are all very subjective things. Personally, I always adapt to the situation. I enjoy working at 40-cell at home. But on trips I take a small display. On the road for me, being able to read Braille outweighs its flaws. I easily put up with a 14-cell display and often read very large texts with it, ”says Sergey Fleitin.

On the other hand, the expert admits that without the experience of using the Braille display, there is a high risk of choosing a device that seems very inconvenient to a person.

Sergey Fleitin believes that manufacturers should provide for the possibility of a test drive for Braille displays, so that everyone can choose exactly what he needs.

A particularly acute situation is now in the regions where people come and ask for “some kind of” display, focusing mainly on the price. The result is not at all what they need.

The former European Union Secretary-General for the Deafblind advises taking a serious and balanced approach to choosing a Braille display. If necessary, then come to him in Moscow or to your regional center, and not buy “what is.”

“We need a format for in-depth familiarity with devices. On the basis of libraries and rehabilitation centers it is possible to conduct “test drives” of Braille displays, offering different options from different manufacturers, ”summarizes Sergey Fleytin.

The main problem of the whole equipment is that it does not have an intuitive interface. It simply does not exist in nature. Therefore, in order to learn how to use any device for the blind, you have to learn. The Braille display is no exception. Future owners need to be trained in advance, and existing ones should be able to quickly exchange experience. This is very important because the inability to obtain certain knowledge and skills can nullify all the benefits of buying a braille display.

Device layout ALVA 640 Comfort

The ALVA 640 Comfort display is in the correct working position if the braille input keys are located on the back of the device’s flat surface and the Thumb keys are closer to you.

The ALVA 640 Comfort layout includes the following components:

  1. 40-cell braille display
  2. Two electronic touch keys (eTouch keys) (to the left of the braille line) to scroll left and right or other functions of reading from a computer screen
  3. Two electronic touch keys (eTouch key) (to the right of the braille line) to scroll left and right or other functions of reading from a computer screen
  4. Five thumb keys to scroll left, right, up, down and return the cursor to the previous position
  5. 40 cursor routing keys
  6. Connector for Mini USB
  7. ON / OFF switch
  8. Connector for connectors
  9. Ctrl key
  10. Braille keyboard with 8 keys (key numbers from left to right – 7, 3, 2, 1, 4, 5, 6, 8)
  11. Windows key (to open the Windows Start menu)
  12. Enter key
  13. Alt key
  14. Spacebar

As for the specific screen-access programs, here the opinions of experts were divided. JAWS is easier to get comfortable with. At NVDA, it’s more difficult to work because the braille table is worse. But if a person needs only Russian, then the NVDA is quite convenient. Therefore, the program should be selected individually for personal needs.

The same goes for operating systems on mobile devices. On Android, there is only one input tool. That is, you cannot connect both the braille display and the keyboard to it at the same time.

“Often they say to me:“ So we bought a display and there is a Samsung phone – how to connect them? ” This is fundamentally the wrong approach. Still, Braille display should come first. After all, even the cheapest device is much more expensive than any smartphone. Therefore, choosing a Braille display, you should already specially select a gadget or computer for it, with which you will interact using Braille, ”emphasizes Sergey Fleitin.

According to the expert, Android, due to damaged tables and a number of other reasons, is poorly adapted for working with Braille. Apple is doing much better. The official website of the company posted a lot of materials, including in Russian, devoted to interaction with Braille displays. Moreover, both general commands for all displays and the features of each specific model that Apple supports are taken into account.

The main recommendations for using the Braille displays are simple: do not touch the keys with dirty, sweaty hands, do not stain, do not wet, store the device in a special case.

When choosing a device, it is important to consider not only ease of use and the number of cells, but also maintainability. When purchasing a display, it is important to know how available in your country and in your city its warranty and post-warranty service. Otherwise, there is a risk of large additional costs.

It must be remembered that buying a Braille display is a very important step in the life of every blind person, which largely determines his future destiny.

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The full broadcast dedicated to Braille displays can be viewed on the program’s YouTube channel:

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