The rollout of a new virtual Braille keyboard has given accessibility a boost for people who are blind or have low vision. Google announced on April 9th their offering of the TalkBack keyboard that integrates directly with the Android operating system. The keyboard uses a standard 6-key layout where each key represents one of six Braille dots that can form letters and symbols.
One of the major benefits of the new keyboard is the convenience of improving accessibility on devices without the need for external hardware. Also, it works as is with all Android apps, requiring no app tweaks or updates.
Google worked with both users and Braille developers during the design, to ensure the keyboard would be familiar with anyone who has used Braille before. TalkBack supports Braille Grade 1 and Grade 2 and is initially available in English.
Google noted in their announcement that they hope this can help expand Braille literacy and exposure. Something people may not know about Braille is that there is a Braille literacy crisis. According to the American Printing House for the Blind, only 8.2% of blind students are Braille readers.
The new keyboard is also quite innovative in how it will use an inherently tactile reading system on a flat smartphone screen. Normally, of course, Braille consists of raised studs, and other efforts to expand Braille literacy have mostly held true to form. For example, last year Lego unveiled Braille Bricks as a fun way to help kids learn Braille.
When most people think of Braille being used digitally, refreshable Braille displays, or Braille terminals, come to mind.
The keyboard is available now for devices running Android 5.0 and later. Users can give it a try by turning on TalkBack in the Android’s Accessibility Settings. Directions for using TalkBack are available from Google.