Braille readers, from text to touch

The ability to translate digital text into braille has some exciting implications for inclusivity. Christopher Freeman gives us his view on why braille readers are so important.

Sense tech review: braille readers

I started learning braille when I was at school, it’s such an important skill to have. I’m registered blind, having been born with congenital glaucoma. Braille enhances my opportunities to engage with the world, while my long cane helps me steer through it.

As a volunteer with Sense, I work to oversee and facilitate job search sessions, helping people with complex disabilities find employment. A key part of this role is to understand and advise on the technology available to support people during this process.

A close-up of three fingers resting on a page marked with braille

A tool to navigate barriers

Braille readers, or ‘refreshable braille displays’, are devices that people connect to computers or mobile devices. These displays allow people with blindness to read websites, emails and other digital documents. This technology can provide a boost to someone’s opportunities for participation, inclusion and independence.

By translating written text into braille, people with visual impairments or blindness can access so much more content. It’s an important step towards having equal opportunities when it comes to looking and applying for work.

Braille technology enables us to have the same use, power, fluidity and enjoyment of the written word that sighted people have.

We could all brush up our braille

These devices are, of course, not without their downsides. One of the main issues is that braille readers only support one half of the conversation. We can translate text into braille, but, as this can’t be understood by someone who isn’t fluent, our connection with sighted people is only partly improved.

Another downside is affordability. Right now, the underlying technology is expensive and braille readers can be quite pricey.

But, I would still say that a braille reader is worth having. People with visual impairments negotiate societal barriers every day – additional support is always welcome!

I try to brush up on my braille where possible. We could all learn more about it and its role in making the world a more accessible place. As well as a means of communication, in our fast-paced society braille can encourage sighted people to stop and take notice. Creating awareness of disabilities, including hidden disabilities like visual impairments, is hugely important.