Braille in the 21st Century

Braille is no longer limited to textured pieces of paper.  Thanks to Assistive Technology, we now have many options for people with vision loss that enable them to read, write, and use a computer with ease.

Believe it or not, Braille (in its earliest form) was not originally designed for people with vision loss.  According to Wikipedia, Napoleon had wanted his soldiers to be able to communicate with one another without speaking or using light.  This proved to be too difficult, and the idea was abandoned.  Louis Braille later perfected this code in 1821, representing letters with upraised dots to be read using your fingers.  In 1837, France published the world’s first Braille textbook.

Since then, many advances have been made in Braille technology.  A Braille slate consists of punching dots through a row of holes onto a sheet of paper with a stylus.  This method is much like using a pencil to write.  Braille notetakers are essentially portable Braille keyboards that record text.  A Braille printer can emboss Braille onto special paper.

Braille 'n Speak, 1987 notetaker
Braille 'n Speak, 1987 notetaker
Braille Lite M20, 2001 notetaker
Braille Lite M20, 2001 notetaker
BrailleNote mPower, 2008 notetaker
BrailleNote mPower, 2008 notetaker

Then we come to the age of computers.  In 1989 The Braille Navigator gave people with low vision access to MS-DOS computers.  Once connected to the computer, the navigator could act both as a keyboard and a mouse.

Braille Navigator, 1989
Braille Navigator, 1989
A keyboard with Braille
A keyboard with Braille

Braille displays, which are typically placed below a keyboard, make it possible to use Braille to read the content on a computer monitor.  They utilize small pins that move underneath a person’s fingertips as the program communicates the information line by line.

PACmate, a portable Braille display
PACmate, a portable Braille display

The INDATA Loan Library offers many of the items mentioned above, and many more!  For example, the Click “Pocket” Money embosses dollar bills with Braille according to their denomination, and conveniently fits on a key chain.  The Maestro helps you get organized by storing notes, recording voice memos, edit documents, and even listen to music.