[nfb-talk] [nfbwatlk] Are smartphones killing Braille?, The Week, February 15 2012

Joshua Lester jlester8462 at students.pccua.edu
Fri Feb 17 03:58:07 UTC 2012

Mrs Eves!
Good to see you posting again!
I'll E-mail you offlist.
As for the new technology killing Braille, it kind of depends.
We've been discussing this on the NABS list, some.
Blessings, Joshua

On 2/16/12, qubit <lauraeaves at yahoo.com> wrote:
> This is great--I mean the use of the IPhone.  I'm contemplating getting one
> sometime, but still have my old Nokia which isn't a touch phone.
> One thing that I never hear mentioned when discussing the drop in braille
> literacy is that for deaf/blind persons, braille is more than just a
> convenience.  I am glad to see that technology is not leaving braille in the
> dust.
> --le
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Buddy Brannan" <buddy at brannan.name>
> To: "NFB Talk Mailing List" <nfb-talk at nfbnet.org>
> Sent: Thursday, February 16, 2012 6:40 PM
> Subject: Re: [nfb-talk] [nfbwatlk] Are smartphones killing Braille?, The
> Week,February 15 2012
> Of course they aren't. The trend has been evident since long before smart
> phones. However, here's the other side of the argument:
> Braille comes unbound from the book: how technology can stop a literary
> crisis | Society | guardian.co.uk
> From
> http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/feb/14/technology-brings-braille-back-apple
> On a lazy Sunday afternoon, Chancey Fleet reads the menu of Bombay Garden to
> four friends gathered at the back of the Chelsea-based Indian restaurant in
> New York City.
> Although she is reading aloud, there are no menus on the table. They aren't
> necessary, because Fleet is blind.
> Instead, she reads using a Braille display that sits unobtrusively on her
> lap and connects to her iPhone via Bluetooth, electronically converting the
> onscreen text into different combinations of pins. She reads by gently but
> firmly running her fingers over the pins with her left hand while navigating
> the phone with her right.
> "The iPhone is the official phone of blindness," she told the Guardian.
> Until recently, technology, especially that which converts text to audio,
> has been hastening the demise of Braille, which educators say is a bad
> thing. Students who can read Braille tend on average to acquire higher
> literacy rates and fare better professionally later on. But Apple's push
> into the field – coupled with increasingly affordable Braille displays – has
> the potential to bring Braille back in a big way.
> Fleet's iPhone has a built-in screen reader called VoiceOver that works with
> all native applications. It tells Fleet what her finger is touching,
> allowing her to download the restaurant menu and read it, access her email,
> and do anything else she needs to with the phone, either by converting text
> into Braille on the separate display or by reading out loud to her. (Here's
> a video of the process at work.)
> Fleet also uses her display to type, rather than navigate with her iPhone or
> computer keyboard. It has a spacebar and with eight thumb-sized keys – one
> that works as a backspace key, another as an enter key, and the remainder
> that function as the six dot positions that comprise a Braille character.
> When Apple released the first accessible iPhone in 2009, "it took the blind
> community by storm," said Fleet. "We didn't know, nobody knew, that Apple
> was planning an accessible device. The device went from being an infuriating
> brick to a fluid, usable, opportunity-levelling device in one iteration."
> Apple has shown that "devices aren't inaccessible because they have to be,
> but because companies made them with a lack of imagination," said Fleet.
> "Apple proved that a blind person could use an interface that didn't have
> physical buttons."
> Anne Taylor, director of access technology for the National Federation of
> the Blind, agrees.
> "Apple has set the bar very high," she said. "No other mobile OS provider,
> such as Google or Microsoft, has made Braille available on their mobile
> platform."
> Apple's iPad, iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, and third generation iPod Touch already
> support more than 30 Bluetooth wireless Braille displays. And the company's
> recent push into digital textbooks could greatly reduce the time it takes
> for Braille textbooks to be available to students, not to mention reduce
> their cost and size: a single print textbook must be transformed into
> several volumes of Braille.
> "Ebooks can be a game changer if they're properly designed because it would
> allow us to get access to the same books at the same time at the same price
> as everyone else," said Christopher Danielsen, spokesman for the NFB.
> "Publishers and manufacturers have to ensure they are designed to be
> accessible to work with braille displays. That's what Apple has done. Apple
> is not perfect but they're way, way ahead of everybody else in this area."
> The benefits of Braille
> Apple's accessibility efforts come at a pivotal time. For decades now, the
> number of Braille users has been on the decline. Data from the American
> Printing House for the Blind's annual registry of legally blind students
> shows that in 1963, 51% of legally blind children in public and residential
> schools used Braille as their primary reading medium. In 2007 this number
> fell to just 10%, while in 2011 it stood at under 9%.
> While there are many reasons for the decline of Braille, technology that
> converts text to speech has been identified as a major factor. In a
> nationwide sample of 1,663 teachers of visually impaired and blind students
> conducted in the early 1990s, 40% chose reliance on technology as a reason
> behind Braille's decline.
> "When we experienced the tech boom in the nineties, I was led to believe
> speech was the way forward, that Braille was becoming obsolete," said
> William O'Donnell, a Manhattan-based student who has been blind since birth.
> But learning or reading using Braille – rather than audio – has distinct
> advantages, say educators.
> "There's this tremendous importance to seeing the way print looks on a page,
> what punctuation does and looks like in a sentence," said Catherine Mendez,
> who works as a kindergarten teacher at Public School 69 in the Bronx.
> "Braille in the context of early literacy is huge. If we can get these
> devices into the hands of kids early we can bolster their understanding in a
> way speech can't do."
> There are professional benefits to learning Braille too. A survey conducted
> by Louisiana Tech University's Professional Development and Research
> Institute on Blindness found that people with sight disabilities who learn
> to read through Braille have a much higher chance of finding a job, even
> more than those who read large print.
> And once you get that job Braille might help you keep it. "In business
> meetings it's more unobtrusive to use Braille. If I want to multitask,
> headphones are rude, but Braille is acceptable," said Fleet. She uses
> Braille when writing formal letters or papers, or preparing notes for a
> public speech or presentation.
> A 'literacy crisis'
> Still, for now Braille displays can only show one line of Braille at a time
> and can cost between $3,000 and $15,000 – depending on the number of
> characters they display at a time – which is prohibitively expensive for
> some. "For me it was not practical to continue to use Braille," said Mendez,
> who does not own a Braille display.
> How the cost will come down is a problem that scientists are working to
> solve. Dr Peichun Yung, a postdoctoral research associate at the electrical
> and computer engineering department of North Carolina State University, who
> lost his own eyesight in an accident, has been working on a device that
> would raise dots that by using a hydraulic and latching mechanism made of an
> electroactive polymer, which is both cheaper and more resilient than the
> prevailing technology.
> "There is a Braille literacy crisis right now," said Yung. "Literacy is the
> foundation for having a job and living an independent life. For reading
> every day, you cannot just rely on speech."
> Nihal Erkan. Photograph: Saabira Chaudhuri
> For those who own both an iPhone or laptop and a Braille display, having to
> choose between audio and Braille isn't necessary. Nowadays, the two go hand
> in hand – literally. Many of the technologies that convert text to speech
> also convert it into a form that can be read on a refreshable Braille
> display, making Braille far more accessible for those who own both devices.
> "Braille has a versatility and a fluidity that it has never had before,"
> said Fleet. While she recalls owning a pocket dictionary in seventh grade
> that took up "eight huge volumes," now "Braille has come unbound from the
> book".
> "Braille is portable, searchable, downloadable. You can convert print to
> Braille yourself," she said. "You can go to a library or use Bookshare,
> which is free for students, and if you harness it, Braille is better than
> it's ever been."
> --
> Buddy Brannan, KB5ELV - Erie, PA
> Phone: (814) 860-3194 or 888-75-BUDDY
> On Feb 16, 2012, at 7:27 PM, Humberto Avila wrote:
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: nfbwatlk-bounces at nfbnet.org [mailto:nfbwatlk-bounces at nfbnet.org] On
>> Behalf Of Nightingale, Noel
>> Sent: Thursday, February 16, 2012 4:24 PM
>> To: nfbwatlk at nfbnet.org
>> Subject: [nfbwatlk] Are smartphones killing Braille?, The Week,February 15
>> 2012
>> Link:
>> http://theweek.com/article/index/224447/are-smartphones-killing-braille
>> Text:
>> Are smartphones killing Braille?
>> A raft of fancy new gadgets let blind people listen to text. Is this
>> contributing to "Braille illiteracy"?
>> posted on February 15, 2012
>> For 200 years, Braille has helped people without eyesight to read and live
>> more independently. But some educators now fear that smartphones and other
>> new technologies have made it easier for young people to get by without
>> learning the system, leading to a surge in "Braille
>> illiteracy<http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2012/02/13/146812288/b
>> raille-under-siege-as-blind-turn-to-smartphones?ft=1&f=1001>." How serious
>> is the problem? Here, a brief guide:
>> How was Braille invented?
>> Braille - an alphabet in which each letter is represented by a unique
>> pattern of raised dots that the blind can read by touch - was developed by
>> Louis Braille<http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16984742> in France in
>> 1821. Inspired by a failed military "night writing" code, his
>> revolutionary
>> system allowed blind people to read independently for the first time in
>> history. Braille was widely adopted among blind people in the 19th and
>> early
>> 20th centuries. As governments encourage or require the system in more and
>> more public settings (especially in Europe), Braille letters can be found
>> on
>> everything from elevator control panels to restaurant menus.
>> How many Americans use Braille?
>> These days, only about 10 percent of blind people can read it, a
>> significant
>> drop from the early 1900s. The decline began years ago as recorded
>> materials
>> became increasingly available. "When am I ever going to use Braille? I'm
>> never going to sit down and read a novel in Braille," Jackie Owellet, who
>> lost her sight as an adult, tells
>> NPR<http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2012/02/13/146812288/braille-
>> under-siege-as-blind-turn-to-smartphones?ft=1&f=1001>. "You know, I'd
>> rather
>> download an audio book from iTunes."
>> And smartphones are contributing to this decline?
>> Absolutely. With the rise in smartphones, which can be equipped with
>> screenreaders that turn text into spoken language, the decline in Braille
>> literacy is accelerating.
>> So will smartphones mean the end of Braille?
>> It's too early to say for sure. But there is a twist: iPhones and iPads
>> also
>> have the potential to make Braille more accessible than ever. Compact
>> electronic "Braille Displays" (connected to a screen via Bluetooth) can
>> translate digital characters into Braille using grids of plastic nubs that
>> rise and fall as the text progresses (See a demonstration video
>> here<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gd10syL5RLY>.) "The iPhone is the
>> official phone of blindness," one blind woman tells Britain's
>> Guardian<http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/feb/14/technology-brings-bra
>> ille-back-apple>.
>> Sources: BBC News<http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16984742>,
>> Guardian<http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/feb/14/technology-brings-bra
>> ille-back-apple>,
>> NPR<http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2012/02/13/146812288/braille-
>> under-siege-as-blind-turn-to-smartphones?ft=1&f=1001>
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