In the 1980’s when I would go to places and teach groups about my guide dog, we would often talk about the latest new fangled invention—the computer. Everyone wanted to know how I accessed it. Back then, there was some rudiments of screen reader software that would very mechanically speak what was on the screen, and there was the Versa-Braille, which some considered the most wonderful thing.
Made by Telesensory Systems, the $7,000 Versa-Braille machine was the first refreshable Braille display available in the United States in 1982. The first time I saw it, I thought I died and gone to heaven. You would put your hand on a strip and felt with your fingers as mechanical pins popped up and down, making it possible to read without paper. I had to have one! I applied for a grant from an organization in Washington D.C., and was 1 of 3 recipients in the country to get what I wanted. It was a stand alone machine that didn’t hook up to anything. The Versa-Braille machine stored its data on a cassette tape. It would read back what I entered on the six keys, which was something absolutely short of amazing. I used my Versa-Braille device for 12 years. During this time other paperless displays came along that could produce mechanical Braille but without intelligence.
Then, in the mid 1990’s, they began experimenting with notetakers which had some Word processing functions. However, they were too large and heavy for me to handle, especially after a 1996 spinal cord injury. Fortunately, I was able to obtain a Braille Sense made by HIMS Inc. three years ago.
This 2 pound device has the mechanical pins popping up and down, but it also allows me to do word processing, get on the internet wirelessly or through Bluetooth, and connect to a smart phone to get texts. It stores information on either an internal flash drive or a SD card. Plus, it has specific aps for things like Facebook or software for reading the Bible.
With all these Braille displays, it was still necessary to hit a button every time you wanted to go down to read the next line. This would cause me physical strain, so I was excited to obtain the newest technology in Braille displays to use with my desktop. The Active Braille display puts whatever is on the computer screen into Braille. It has been invaluable for doing Braille transcription, which I do for a living. It’s also wonderful for filling out forms because with a push of a button, the cursor can automatically be routed to wherever you need to write. You can really get a hands on look at the page, something that is not truly possible with screen readers.
Best of all, it’s no longer necessary to push a button each time you finish reading a line of Braille. The Active Braille display by Triumph Technology, senses when your hand is at the end of the line and automatically advances to the next line. Speech is still important, but for me, there is nothing more wonderful than the use of Braille in reading and gathering information.
Read more posts in this months series, National Disability Employment and Blindness Awareness Month found in WeCo’s IT Accessibility Information Blog.