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place of braille in the age of technology | new university

A quick guess would be that the use of braille has declined in recent years, either due to advances in technology or the rise of the audiobook industry. However, braille has since evolved from just embossed paper to its incorporation into accessible technology.

Evolved from its original use as a means of low light wartime communication, braille has been used as a tactile reading and writing system for more than a century for the visually impaired. It is a code system that allows reading and writing without using sight, made up of raised braille cells – each resembling a two-by-three grid – that represent individual letters, numbers and symbols . So how has braille survived the age of screen readers and smart devices?

According to National Association for Science Education, visual impairment affects each member of the disability community in unique ways. A blind or visually impaired person can use braille as a means of reading and writing, in addition to using smart devices that can read aloud to them.

The National Science Teaching Association maintains that each person is unique in their accessibility. For example, someone with a visual impairment and limited mobility might not be able to detect braille cells through their fingers and will not find braille accessible. On the other hand, someone who is both visually and hearing impaired might find Braille to be their preferred mode of reading and writing because they cannot hear screen readers or electronic personal assistants.

Karen Arcos, a former UCI who received accommodations from the Disability Services Center (DSC), said she used Braille daily to complete her doctorate. in Cognitive Neuroscience with a specialization in Chicano/Latino Studies as a totally blind person. Arcos said she uses Braille in all aspects of her training at UCI, including meeting presentations, data collection and analysis, daily emails and writing her thesis.

“Paper-based Braille is particularly useful when creating or interpreting tables, charts and tactile graphics. Braille digital reading is handy for fun, like texting and reviewing articles. I also like to write in Braille, especially when I’m thinking deeply or editing text,” Arcos said.

Personal preferences for using assistive technology ultimately complement the individual accessibility of the braille reader. Ultimately, each person must decide for themselves which tools increase their personal access.

DSC’s assistive technology manager, Somphone Eno, explained that there are many factors that determine whether a person prefers to consume braille in physical or digital mode.

“One page of text can turn into three pages of Braille. You can have volumes and volumes of braille paper that only represent a book, for example. Some people might prefer to have the hard copy and some people might like the refreshable braille of some apps. Or in some cases, [refreshable braille displays] could be smaller devices and make information more portable,” Eno said.

It is possible to say that the preference of paper-based braille over screen readers is similar to that of physical printed books over audiobooks or e-books. There is a specific occasion for everyone.

Among recent advances to increase accessibility, updatable braille displays have become more accessible since their invention in the 1980s.

According to American Foundation for the Blind“Braille displays allow information to be accessed on a computer screen by electronically raising and lowering different combinations of pins in the braille cells… [where] it changes continuously as the user moves the cursor across the screen.

“A lot of people might be using their computer with a screen reader and they can get everything working fine, but they might also prefer to have a braille display. Even if it’s [more advanced] technology is still braille,” said Eno.

Braille, both in print and on updatable screens, retains its importance because audiobooks and screen readers were created to expand accessibility for visually impaired or blind people, not to replace the tactile means of communication. reliable than Braille has proven itself.

Eno said Braille remains the clearest representation of text available to people who are visually impaired or blind, stating that “when you listen to information, you don’t really know the intricacies of the information, you just know the content. ”

When listening to a piece of text read aloud, some aspects of the text may be lost. For example, the tone of sentences is expressed grammatically with punctuation, such as an exclamation mark or a question mark. Electronic personal assistants, like Siri or Alexa, do their best to mimic human intonations; however, the precise meaning is lost in auditory-only communication.

“Braille gives people who are blind a way to know aspects such as spelling and spatial orientation when writing. In addition to examining and creating details that are more difficult to maintain through hearing, like computer code,” Arcos said.

Additionally, Braille allows the reader to see the words spelled out in front of them, understand the punctuation present in the passage, and perhaps be a child’s first introduction to written grammar.

Arcos said it was important to increase Braille literacy among visually impaired or blind people.

“The unemployment rate of over 70% among blind people in the United States is already too high, in my opinion; learning and being comfortable with Braille is a key first step in reducing this tendency,” Arcos said.

Advances in accessible technology have led braille to be fully integrated into the digital age, as indispensable to accessible consumption as screen readers and electronic personal assistants.

Shakira Noriega is a STEM Contributing Writer for the Winter 2022 term. She can be reached at [email protected].