Refreshable Braille

Posted June 9th, 2009 by Blair Millen

When I present accessibility seminars or workshops, I usually ask those attending to indicate if they have seen a screen reader being used.

Several years ago, it was not uncommon for only about 10 percent of the audience to indicate that they had. Recently, often more than three quarters of the people attending say they have seen a screen reader in use. However, nearly all assume a screen reader is an audio output device and when asked if they have seen a Braille device, the answer is usually no.

In April, I was preparing material for a workshop about complying with version 2 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) and thought it would be useful to include a video of someone using a refreshable Braille device. I contacted Bruce Maguire as I know this is his preferred way of accessing the web and asked if I could video him using his device. Bruce, whose contribution to improving the accessibility of the web extends well beyond his famous complaint against the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, willingly agreed to help.

I hoped the refreshable Braille video would provide viewers without any experience of the technology, with both a basic understanding of how the device is operated and a feeling for what it might be like to access the web without relying on the senses of sight and hearing.

Needless to say, Bruce doesn’t use a screen, so a monitor is not normally connected to his computer. Also, he usually turns off the audio output generated by the screen reader. When it came to shooting the video, we could have connected a monitor so that viewers of the video would be able to see the pages as Bruce visited them. However we decided instead, to turn on the audio so that people could hear the screen reader reports of the material as well as Bruce’s description what he was reading with the Braille device.

After we had completed the basic filming, Bruce and I talked about shooting a short segment with the audio turned off. Without any more planning than that, Bruce turned off the audio, I turned on the camera and Bruce announced he would show us how he goes about buying a book from Amazon.

In this segment of the video, everything after Amazon has returned the search results for books by Anita Roddick is in real time.

Transcript of “Refreshable Braille and the Web” video.

I feel there is value in giving people involved in developing websites a greater understanding of how the web is accessed by users of different assistive technologies. During the last two weeks, I have shown both the refreshable Braille video and another video, “Wheeling in Second Life”, which features a woman with Cerebral Palsy to over 100 people at workshops.

Transcript of “Wheeling in Second Life” video

Many of the people who attend the WCAG 2 workshops told me that they found both these videos very beneficial since they allowed them to see how people use the assistive technologies in an everyday context and highlighted the importance of ensuring sites are accessible to everyone.

Guest author Roger Hudson established Web Usability in 2000. Since then, he has assessed the usability and/or accessibility of hundreds of web sites including the Australian Museum, the NSW Office of Information and Communications Technology and Qantas. He also conducts workshops, training sessions and regular tutorials on usability and accessibility.

Yes — we are aware that this page fails validation. However currently only offer video embedding using <iframe> — although they hope to allow embeds using <object> shortly. As soon as this is available, we will switch to using a valid approach. Until then, we believe that this page represents a reasonable compromise between standards compliance and overall accessibility

10 Responses to: “Refreshable Braille”

  1. Refreshable Braille « AccessTech News responds:
    Posted: June 9th, 2009 at 7:11 am

    […] Refreshable Braille Roger Hudson Tue, 09 Jun 2009 09:30:18 GMT […]

  2. Refreshable Braille « The BAT Channel responds:
    Posted: June 9th, 2009 at 7:13 am

    […] Refreshable Braille Roger Hudson Tue, 09 Jun 2009 09:30:18 GMT […]

  3. Mike Cherim responds:
    Posted: June 9th, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    That is some pretty amazing technology. And if the importance of an accessible web isn’t obvious enough, the fact that a book addict can now get his fix online says an awful lot.

  4. Stomme poes responds:
    Posted: June 11th, 2009 at 5:07 am

    I can’t see the videos. Every single browser I open either shows white squares (Win XP, Ubuntu Linux) or on FF, because I have javascript off, I see the beginnings of videos after turning scripts on, makes a FF popup box appear stating “captionStats.each is not a function” and the video only shows the first frame.

  5. Mel Pedley responds:
    Posted: June 13th, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    @Stomme: Sorry you’re having problems viewing the videos. Unfortunately, it’s beyond our control. Have you tried reading the transcripts? I do appreciate that it’s not quite the same as seeing the videos but I found the second commentary on Second Life extremely interesting from a social perspective.

  6. Stomme poes responds:
    Posted: July 2nd, 2009 at 4:24 am

    Hi Mel, yes I did read the transcripts, and later was able to get someone’s windows machine to show the first video in IE6 (lawlz). I do want to thank you guys for having this page, Braille devices are something I have no experience with. Thanks.

  7. Tara Deck responds:
    Posted: July 13th, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    Great video’s - - Thanks for the valuable information!

  8. Braille Institute of America responds:
    Posted: July 30th, 2009 at 10:28 am

    Thanks for the great information! Love your blog and the information that you share, keep up the good work!

  9. Twitter Trackbacks for Refreshable Braille - [] on responds:
    Posted: August 30th, 2009 at 7:44 am

    […] Refreshable Braille - – view page – cached Two videos developed by Roger Hudson demonstrating refreshable Braille and the potential impact of Second Life for disabled users. — From the page […]

  10. Sensory Impairments and Education « A Technology Experience responds:
    Posted: February 28th, 2011 at 11:28 am

    […] Through the different simulations I took, either with photographs showing the differences in eyesight or listening to a conversation that is severely muffled, I have come across incredible technology to help improve the lives of people with sensory impairments. One interesting one was Refreshable Braille. This allows the individual to us the computer, specifically the internet; giving the ability to read what is written on a website through Braille. Here is a video of man who using this accomplish work tasks, grocery shop, or shop on Amazon. He is blind along with a hearing impairment. There are also recording gadgets (hand-held organizer), real-time captioning, fm radios, telephones that write out what the caller is saying, and many more. It’s incredible how much technology can help to improve/impact a life. […]

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