Braille and Tactile Graphics at CSUN 2022
In 2021, the in-person technology conference for persons with disabilities conducted by the California State University at Northridge, commonly known as CSUN, was cancelled. All sessions and exhibits were virtual. The last in-person CSUN conference was in 2020. That year, the conference was held in mid-March, just as everyone was becoming aware of the impending pandemic. It was sparsely attended and many exhibitors, especially the ones from the large mainstream companies just didn't come.
CSUN 2022 was a refreshing reminder of conferences gone by. The attendance was definitely up, not quite as much as a pre-pandemic CSUN, but a lot more than 2020. Sessions were well-attended and almost all the exhibitors were back.
This year, there were more than the usual number of exhibitors featuring tactile graphics and braille-related products. In this article, I will describe the tactile graphics items in the exhibit hall and a few of the other braille items. Elsewhere in this issue, J.J. Meddaugh provides an overview of other braille items as well as many other highlights of CSUN 2022.
Tactile Graphics Displays
In the exhibit hall this year, there were several new tactile graphics devices. An early prototype of the Dot Pad from Dot Corporation had been shown two years ago. This year, a much-improved version was in evidence. The quality of the 2,400 dots was very legible. The unit can display text and graphics, and can connect via Bluetooth or USB-c.
The display has scrolling buttons and four other buttons that can be configured by the application. The Dot Corporation has been working with Apple to add additional braille features to their screen readers. In iOS 15.2, five new settings were added to the rotor to add functionality for a tactile graphics display. They are:
Braille Invert: A graphic will typically be displayed with raised dots. The settings for this item are "Standard" and "Inverted." When the setting is set to "Inverted" a graphic will be represented as blank space while the surrounding area will be displayed as raised dots.
Line Thickness: This setting controls the thickness of lines of the displayed graphic. Values range from .1 to 1.0.
Braille Horizontal Pan: This controls the panning of the image in the horizontal direction. There are settings of 0%, 50%, and 100%.
Braille Vertical Pan: This controls the panning of the image in the vertical direction. There are settings of 0%, 50%, and 100%.
Braille Zoom: This setting allows the image to be zoomed in or out. Possible settings are 1.0, 1.5, 2.0, 3.0, 5.0, and 10.0.
The Dot Pad is scheduled for production in September, 2022. For more information, visit Dot Inc..
The Dot Pad is being used as a display for a project called IMAGE, Accessible Internet Graphics via Audio and Touch, being conducted by researchers at McGill University's Shared Reality Lab. In their CSUN presentation, they described IMAGE as a project to improve access to Internet graphics for people who are blind or visually impaired. Using a plug-in for the Chrome web browser, IMAGE can be used to render graphics on websites such as charts, maps, and photographs in audio and/or tactile form. A public beta of the browser plug-in has just been released.
In addition to the Dot Pad, haptic access to web-based graphics created by IMAGE can also be rendered by the Haply 2diy, a two-dimensional mouse-like device that provides different levels of force feedback to indicate tactile structures. IMAGE is open-source so its creators are hoping that others will expand its capabilities to work better with additional graphic types. For more information about IMAGE, visit the Image website at McGill University.
Another tactile graphics display called the Braille Pad was shown by 4blind. It was similar to the Dot Pad in size and dot spacing. This device which is still in development also includes a camera. It has 1,850 dots in a 50 by 37 grid, and is designed to display graphics and braille. After taking a photo, software on the device can display the image as it was received or convert the photo into an outline image for easier tactile comprehension. It can connect via Bluetooth or USB. For more information about the Braille Pad, visit Braille PAD.
Another tactile graphics display was shown by the American Printing House for the Blind. The Dynamic Tactile Device (DTD) is also in active development. APH is partnering with HumanWare for software and Dot Corporation for the cells to create a tablet that can display both braille and graphics simultaneously. This will allow a student to read a textbook in braille and view the graphics at the point where they occur.
APH is calling it a proof of concept at this point. The spacing is a bit different from traditional braille produced in the United States but not so much that it negatively affects reading speed and comprehension. A final decision has not been made about the tablet's size. The model being shown is 10 lines of 32 cells. The entire display can be refreshed in 2.5 seconds. For more information, visit APH Is Ready for a Braille Revolution.
Orbit Research was showing the Graphiti Interactive Tactile Graphics Display, and the Graphiti Plus. The original Graphiti was launched in March of 2020. The Graphiti Plus is the same graphics display with an Orbit Reader 40-cell braille display built in and is now available.
The Graphiti can connect to any computer or mobile device. It measures 11.6 x 10.6 by 1.6 inches, and has 2,400 dots arranged in a grid of 40 by 60. It has the ability to independently set each pin to different heights, which enables the display of topographical maps and other graphical elements such as grey shades and color represented as varying heights of pins. It also has a touch interface allowing the user to "draw" on the display.
The Graphiti has a Perkins-style 8-key braille keyboard for entering braille text, a cursor pad for navigation, a standard USB host port and an SD-card slot for loading files for reading and editing in a standalone mode. For more information, visit Graphiti - Orbit Research.
In the area of braille instruction, APH showed a new device called Polly. This device is manufactured by Thinkerbell Labs in India who market the device internationally as Annie. The version sold by APH has been substantially localized by them.
It is an educational device for young children, with reading and writing exercises and lots of interactive games using one or more of four types of braille interaction. it has two jumbo braille cells whose dots can be raised or lowered by the user, six cells that display braille like a typical braille display, six cells that function like an electronic slate and stylus, and a braille input keyboard. The games use various combinations of these braille interactive methods. The teacher can interact with the device remotely. They plan to have this device available in the summer. For more information, visit Introducing Polly! | American Printing House (aph.org).
Another braille device with a major braille instruction component was the Bonocle. This device looks like a computer mouse with a one-cell braille display. It has five control buttons and two system buttons.
The Bonocle app runs on iOS or Android. It includes dozens of educational and entertainment activities including alphabet learning, crossword puzzles, Elements which teaches the periodic table; a reader which allows the reading of pdf documents, a checklist app, a notes app, a counter app, a sheets app to navigate the grid of Google Sheets or Excel A measurement app, and even Wordle.
The Delaware-based company describes the Bonocle as "braille entertainment in your pocket." The device is slated to be released at the end of April 2022 but can be pre-ordered now. For more information, contact Bonocle.
The HaptiBraille is a new device from 4blind. Using an iOS or Android app, it allows a braille-reading deafblind user to read a person's spoken communication in braille. Instead of the traditional pins of a braille display, the dots of the HaptiBraille are incorporated into its keys. The user can type text on the braille keyboard and the app will speak it for the hearing person. Then, the user can read the response without ever moving fingers off the keys. The HaptiBraille can present the dots of each character one at a time or altogether, and can vary the speed and intensity of the presentation. For more information, visit HaptiBraille (4blind.com).
Overflow Biz from Korea was again showing the Versa Slate. This unique 4-line, 20-cell paperless slate allows the user to quickly jot notes, then turn the slate over and read them back. The slate includes a magnetic stylus that is built into the side for easy access. With the push of a button, all or part of the written text can be instantly erased and it is ready for the next note. The Versa Slate is sold in the United States by A. T. Guys. For more information, visit Versa Slate Paperless, Erasable Braille Slate & Stylus.
Two new keyboards specifically made for blind users were in the exhibit hall this year.
The Hable One is a new keyboard from Hable in the Netherlands. It is a very small Bluetooth keyboard for inputting braille on a smartphone or computer. It weighs about 3 ounces. It measures 4 inches long by 1.75 inches wide and .5 inch thick, and it has a battery life of approximately 50 hours. It supports iOS and Android devices on both tablets and phones, as well as typing on Windows and MacOS computers. It supports more than 10 languages including English, Dutch, French, German, Spanish, and Hindi.
The most unique feature of the Hable One is that it is designed to be held between two hands and used vertically. There is no need for a table or desk which makes inputting text on the go very convenient. For those who have used braille screen input, the experience feels much like that of inputting braille in screen-away mode except that you are typing on physical keys. For more information, visit Hable.
The QwertyCase is a wireless keyboard from D.I. Electronics in Korea. It is a Bluetooth keyboard that can be used to enter text from a QWERTY-style keyboard layout or braille. It can be used with iOS or Android devices. It weighs about 3 ounces. It is rectangular, 5.75 inches long, 2.75 inches wide and .5 inches thick. It can be magnetically attached to the back of a smartphone by adhering an included adhesive-backed thin steel plate to the phone or phone case.
Like the Hable One, it is designed to be used with two hands facing each other. The qwerty keys have been arranged in six rows of five keys each. The D and F keys have tactile markings so the experience is like typing on a standard keyboard. Or, the QwertyCase can be set to braille mode where the s, d, f and j, k, l keys become braille input keys.
By flipping a mode switch, the QwertyCase can be put in phone mode which causes the left side of the keyboard to become a touchtone keypad. In this mode, you can dial phone numbers and enter digits inside a phone call for communicating with banks and other interactive telephone systems. For more information, visit the company's website.
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.