The BrailleNote as a Learning Tool
The BrailleNote has the functionality of a computer but instead of a visual screen as a display, it has a refreshable braille display and voice output. One of the features of the BrailleNote and similar products that sets them aside from other technologies is the ability to edit in the braille environment. The refreshable braille display allows the user to scroll through and read a document in braille one line at a time. The cursor can be “routed” or placed exactly where you want it, by pressing the cursor router button directly above the braille cell. Editing can then take place in the same way as you would edit a word document – delete or add any text you like in braille!
The BrailleNote is a brilliant piece of equipment that greatly enhances inclusion in the classroom. Teachers can save a copy of a worksheet that they may have prepared for the class onto a USB memory stick, which can be loaded directly onto the BrailleNote. Answers can be added to the document in braille and then it can be saved back onto the memory stick for the teacher to open on their computer as a Word file. The BrailleNote handles the translation. Documents can also be shared by sending directly to a printer for a print copy or by email wirelessly or via Ethernet.
Students adore the BrailleNote because they can, for the first time, have hundreds of books stored as Word files in the memory or on SD card and they can flick open any book of their choice to read with their fingers or their ears. Compare that process to requesting a braille copy of a book, waiting for it to be produced, then storing and carting it around in volumes.
We have introduced the BrailleNote to a number of Victorian school students. It has woven its magic in many ways, in some cases acting as a catalyst for impressive gains in literacy and inclusion in school programs. In one case, a student who was struggling with braille literacy made instant gains in her ability to feel the details of the braille cells. She reported that she found the braille display much crisper than paper braille and was able to distinguish detail better. A student who had been struggling with managing the size of unwieldy hard copy braille and her large, noisy and frightening electronic brailler with her one useful hand, fell in love with her new, silent, small and manageable BrailleNote. For the first time she was able to independently open documents and speedily find the place the class was up to using the find function – space with f. Another student who was having problems decoding words and did not yet know all of the braille contractions was delighted to discover that when reading using the book reader function, he could uncontract a word by routing the cursor to the word, and then the BrailleNote would read the word aloud when he pressed space with r. The BrailleNote was teaching him braille.
All students to whom I have introduced the BrailleNote have taken quickly and easily to the menu and operating environment. This environment, Keysoft, was designed especially for navigation by blind users, and has been developed over many years in response to feedback given by users. Menus all begin at the central point, the Main Menu. Step through menus using space, then select using enter. Step back with space with e for exit. If lost at any stage, press space with h for context sensitive help. There is not one f-key to be found! Once students understand these basics, they go away and play with the BrailleNote. It teaches them. The next time I see them, they tell me what they have learned.
Enabling! Independence! Brilliant!
– Lea Nagel