Using Braille Input on your iDevice

Introduction

As a teacher and a iDevice user who is blind, I get really excited about apps and other tools that I utilize on a daily basis, especially when I can pass the information along to my students and to others. A technique that I have been using for a while now that has greatly influenced the way I use my iPhone is braille input which was brought about as an accessibility feature in IOS 8. Before this wonderful little feature, I typed on my iPhone using the touch-typing method of dragging my finger around the screen, finding my desired letter or symbol, and lifting my finger to place that letter or symbol where I wanted it.  This method made any type of longer text or email a tedious task and one that I often chose to write with my computer or with a keyboard or braille display connected to my iPhone via Bluetooth. I often would dictate my texts when I was out and about, and sometimes I still do. This particular feature however is available to use anywhere a keyboard is necessary such as when taking notes, when typing in a web browser, and when filling in items such as search boxes. There are applications that do this as well, but braille input is built directly into IOS and can be accessed in the rotor function. In this post, we will discuss prerequisite skills that are necessary to access this feature, how to set it up, how to begin typing, and gestures that will make typing easier.

Prerequisite skills

In order to use braille input, one must be familiar with uncontracted or contracted braille, be able to utilize a swipe gesture on the iDevice, and be able to use the rotor function available in the accessibility and VoiceOver settings on the device.

Instructions for enabling braille input

  • Go to general, accessibility and VoiceOver
  • Double tap on the rotor and select  braille screen input

You must also set what your preferred braille code options are and your preferred translation table is as well. The steps for that are:

  • Go to settings, general, accessibility and braille
  • Double tap on the braille screen input button
  • Choose between 6-dot uncontracted and contracted braille
  • Press the back button and return to braille settings
  • Double tap on the braille code option and choose your desired option (UEB, English US etc.)

Note: Eight dot mode braille input is only available on the iPad.

Using braille screen input

Once you have enabled braille screen input and set your options, you are ready to start typing in braille. I would suggest beginning in the notes application or in whichever note taking application you prefer, as braille screen input takes a little getting used to. Once in an area where you can access the keyboard, turn your rotor until you hear braille screen input. At that time, your device should tell you that you are in landscape mode, that you are in tabletop or screen away mode, and whether you are using six-dot (uncontracted) or contracted braille. Tabletop mode is where you can write with your iDevice flat on a table, with your fingers positioned in a V-shape with the index fingers at the bottom of the V and the fingers fanning up and outward. I find this mode more useful on a device with a bigger screen such as an iPad, but it depends on factors such as the size of your hands, and personal preference. Screen away mode is when you have the screen facing away from you, and the phone held with your pinkies and thumbs resting along the side edges of the phone and your fingers forming the shape of the braille cell on the screen with your index fingers (dots 1 and 4) at the top of the screen closest to you and your ring fingers (dots 3 and 6) at the bottom. You can reverse the dot positions so that dots 1 and 4 are at the bottom of the phone by going to settings, general, accessibility, voiceOver, braille, braille screen input and toggling on the option for reversing the dot positions. When you first begin to type, the device may ask you to calibrate the dot positions by placing your fingers on the screen. You can do it, but it is not necessary to begin typing. Practice typing the alphabet and different words to see how you like it, how far apart your fingers need to be, and to learn where the dots are on the screen. The following gestures can be used when in braille input mode:

  • Space (one finger swipe right)
  • Backspace one character (one finger swipe left)
  • New line (two finger swipe right)
  • Spelling suggestions (one finger swipe up or down)
  • Select an item on the home screen (in braille input mode, type the letter of an item  and continue to spell the word until you hear it, then two-finger swipe right to select it)
  • Switch between uncontracted and contracted braille (three finger swipe right)
  • Translate (only in contracted braille) (two finger swipe down) To stop braille (two finger scrub or switch to another rotor setting)
  • Explore dot positions (one finger hold)Lock and unlock orientation (three finger swipe up or down)
  • Navigate webpages (type in  the letter of an element such as heading and use a one finger swipe up or down)

Conclusion

Braille screen input can be used on your iDevice in several different ways including in tabletop or screen away mode, and in contracted and uncontracted braille. It is an option that does not include the use of another device such as a Bluetooth keyboard or braille display. It can be used instead of or in conjunction with the other on screen keyboarding options. It is quick to set up, fun to play with and most importantly can be an incredible tool to maximize the usefulness of your device. It may take some getting used to, so give yourself some time with it and you will hopefully find it a helpful typing tool. Thanks for reading and feel free to contact me 

Comments

Posted by Kelsey NicolayNov 06, 2017

Hello,
I am just beginning to play with Braille screen input on my iPhone Se. I am confused by the fact that the dot positions seem to be backwards from what I am used to. Any thoughts on this? I didn't reverse the dot positions in Settings.

Posted by Diane BraunerNov 07, 2017

I just played with the Braille Screen Input with iOS 11 and had some random experiences with the dot order. It appears to be how you hold/flip/rotate the phone. The first couple of times that I rotated or flipped my phone, the dots were in the reverse order. (The dots do appear visually on the screen; however, VoiceOver does not read the dots if you drag your finger over them.) I found that if I laid my phone flat on my desk top and flipped it up on the long edge (screen away from me) and laid it back down, the numbers were then upside down and the numbers were in a line from left to right 6, 5, 4, 1, 2, 3.  When I flipped the phone so the screen faced me, then back flat on the table, the dots were then in the correct mode from left to right.  3, 2, 1, 4, 5, 6.  

A three finger swipe up will lock the orientation screen and a three finger swipe down will unlock the orientation of the screen.

As you mentioned, in settings, there is a way to reverse the dot positions. Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Braille > Braille Screen Input > Reverse Dot Position (toggle switch).

Posted by Kelsey NicolayDec 30, 2017

Hello,
As a follow up to my previous comment, I have been playing with braille screen input a bit more and found the dot positions to be reversed when I got my new phone and restored it from an iCloud backup. Doing the trick you mentioned earlier of rotating the phone did not work. I had to reverse the dot positions in settings and then they were in the correct order. My issue now is my phone is mistyping characters, for example, instead of a y, I get the with sign, s comes out as an exclamation point, etc. No matter how I reposition my fingers, still the same issue. I am running IOS 11.2.1 on an iphone 8. Suggestions on what else to do would be greatly appreciated; I'm about ready to give it up.

Posted by ArmanDec 31, 2017

How do you do a hash tag or number sign? Can't find it any place.

Posted by Diane BraunerJan 01, 2018

To make a hash tag using the braille screen input, you make the number sign, space, then backspace. After the backspace, type in your hashtag.  If you do not use the space then backspace, VoiceOver assumes you are trying to create a number and automatically creates numbers.

Posted by Diane BraunerJan 01, 2018

HI Kelsey,

I am not sure what is causing your issue, as I have not been able to duplicate the problem.  I just tried the braille screen input and did not have the issues you mentioned. I am running iOS 11.2.1 with uncontracted six-dot Braille, six-dot braille screen input, reverse dot positions unchecked. I have the English Braille Code (US) selected as well. I'm sorry you are having issues! I will ask around and see if anyone can answer your question though!  Diane

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