Did you know you can also type in braille on a screen? You certainly can! However, this feature is only available on iOS and Android devices. In this installment, we will show you all you need to know to operate this mode on both devices.
Some Quick Notes
Braille screen input is only the basics. You cannot operate a device using this mode, but you can type text. You are not able to perform any formatting functions with this feature, either. If you need to do any kind of selecting text, exit this mode and do any selection normally.
Setup on iOS
To enable braille screen input, open the VoiceOver Settings, and from here, find Rotor. Remember, the rotor is VoiceOver’s way of helping you move through different elements on an app. To use the rotor, rotate two fingers on your screen, as if you were turning an imaginary dial. Moving your fingers clockwise moves you forward, while counter clockwise moves you backwards. In these rotor settings, locate “Braille Screen Input.” If you hear “Selected,” before the option, this means it is already enabled. If you do not hear this, “double Tap” with one finger to enable it. Once you have finished that part, you can now back out of that setting. We need to do one more thing before we can use it.
Translation table and Input
It’s time to make sure the type of braille is the correct one for this feature. From the VoiceOver settings, locate “Braille.” Here, we’re only worrying about two things. These are the braille table, and the braille screen input options.
Under the “Braille Screen Input” option, you can select between contracted, uncontracted, and eight dot braille if using an iPad. Contracted is essentially where you can write all the braille shortcuts for specific words, while “Uncontracted six-dot,” you write the whole word out. “uncontracted eight-dot” is a rarely used option. This is if you need to enter email addresses, or passwords. Since the capitol sign would be to press the “Backspace” combined with whatever letter you’re trying to capitalize.
Once you select the option you prefer, back out of those settings, and now find the “Braille Tables” option. Your preferred table should already be selected. Essentially, what code will be used for both braille input and output? Many languages have multiple codes, so be very careful when choosing. Also, make sure you are familiar with the code you have chosen. If, for instance, you select “English Unified,” you must already know the Unified English Braille code. If not, you may have issues being able to input text.
Using Braille Screen Input
It is now time to teach you how to use this mode! Fair warning, this mode does take practice to master, but after a while, it will become second nature. When in a text field, begin by turning the rotor to “Braille Screen Input.” Your phone will then say, “Landscape,” followed by where your home button or charge port should be.
Portrait and Landscape.
Here is a quick overview on what these terms mean. Your phone is a long rectangle. If your phone is in portrait mode, it is being held vertically, like when you talk on it. The short ends of the screen are on opposite sides. If the phone is in landscape mode, then the long sides of the screen are on opposite sides, or can be held horizontally for the same effect.
Once you establish where the home button or charge port is, depending on your phone model, there is another thing to note. There are two methods you can type in braille. You can either use “Table Top,” or “Screen Away” mode. We will show you each of these methods. One method does not work for all people, so it is recommended you study these carefully.
This mode is the simplest. All that you need to do is have your phone on a table, in landscape mode. Place your fingers on the screen as if you are going to write in braille in a straight line. If you have a smaller iPhone, the line may turn into a V shape, due to how much room the screen has. So on your left hand, “Dots 1 through 3” are covered by your index, middle and ring fingers. The same is true for your right hand for “dots 4 through 6.” You can then begin to type normally!
In this mode, it gets a bit complicated. You are essentially turning your phone where the screen is facing away from you. The back of the phone is facing your body. The braille dot configuration is changed to the short sides of the screen. So now, rather than the keyboard going left to right, it is now going up and down. Weird, right? So essentially, on the left short side, starting at the top is “Dot 1,” and at the bottom is “Dot 3.” On the right short end, “Dot 4” starts at the top, and “Dot 6” is at the bottom. To hold your phone in screen away, use your thumb and pinky to hold the corners of the phone. This takes practice, but it will get easier as time goes by. Your other fingers should rest comfortably on the dots, and you can begin typing.
Gestures for Braille Screen Input
Now that we figured out the orientations, it is now time to show you a few gestures to help you with this typing journey.
- To delete a character, “Swipe Left” with one finger.
- To delete a word, “Swipe Left” with two fingers.
- To make a space, “Swipe Right” with one finger.
- To make a new line, “swipe Right” with two fingers.
- When you are writing a word, you can “swipe Up” or “Down” with one finger to find the closest match to your word, followed by a “Space” gesture to insert it.
- To toggle contractions, “Swipe Right” with three fingers. (Note that nothing will be inserted until you write a “Space,” or “swipe down” with two fingers to translate text when contractions are enabled.)
- To lock the orientation of braille screen input, “Swipe Down” with three fingers. (This is a toggle)
- For a “quick action,” such as hitting the “Send” button on a messaging app, “Swipe Up” with three fingers. (This action can do different things, depending on the app.)
- To exit braille screen input mode, simply “Turn the Rotor” in any direction.
You can also “Hold One Finger” on the screen to enter help mode, and explore the screen or try these gestures. “Hold one finger” on the screen to exit this mode.
Sometimes, braille screen input can act up for a weird reason. Here are some common scenarios, and how to fix them.
Weird Jibberish Being Entered
If this happens, you may need to re-calibrate the dot positions. To do this, tap both sides of the screen with the three dots on each side. This must be done in quick succession. So, first press “Dots 1, 2, and 3” at the same time, then right after that, press “Dots 4, 5, and 6.” Again, this has to be a quick switch. You should then hear, “Dot Positions Calibrated.” If on an iPad, “Double Tap” all eight dots.
My orientation is all messed up.
If this happens, make sure the orientation is unlocked first by “Swiping Down” with three fingers. Then, just do a quick rotation of your phone either from screen facing toward, then away from you, or just turning the phone completely around. That is, if the home button/charging port was on your left, you want that on the right side. Once you are happy with this, it is recommended you lock your orientation again. Also, under the “Braille Screen Input” settings, there is an option to reverse the dot positions to make things easier, if having the wrong orientation.
Braille Screen Input on Android
Android last year integrated this functionality into the Talkback screen reader. It works quite similarly to the iOS keyboard, with a few minor differences. You still have to use your phone in landscape mode like on iOS. There is currently no eight-dot mode, and you can only write in Unified English Braille (UEB) at this time.
Enabling the Talkback Braille Keyboard
To enable the braille keyboard on Talkback, first, perform either a “tap with three fingers,” or draw a line that goes “down, then to the right.” This opens the Talkback Menu from anywhere on Android. Locate “Settings” from here, and once there, find “Braille Keyboard.” In that menu, locate “Set up Braille Keyboard.” You will be given instructions on the rest of this process, but we’ll be nice and help you through the whole process. Locate the “Settings” button on that screen, and you will be directed to Android’s keyboard management settings. Locate and enable “Talkback Braille Keyboard” on this screen. You will get a prompt telling you the app won’t work until your phone unlocks the next time you restart the device. Hit “Okay,” and you should be good to go!
Using the Keyboard
When on an edit field, you can switch to the Talkback braille keyboard by selecting the “Next Keyboard,” or “switch keyboard” icon, depending on what keyboard you are using. This icon is typically located at the bottom right corner of the screen. Once you select this, locate “Talkback Braille Keyboard.” The first time you load this, you will be presented with a tutorial. It is recommended you try this tutorial if you are a first time user. As mentioned above, the iOS and Talkback braille keyboards are quite similar. All the editing commands such as deleting words, characters, adding spaces and new lines are exactly the same gestures. There are a few minor differences here. For instance, to re-calibrate the dots, press and hold all six of your fingers on the screen for three seconds until you hear, “dot positions activated.” You can also use Table top and screen away mode on Android, but you cannot lock the orientation with a gesture. You must goe into the Talkback settings under Braille Keyboard, and choose the layout.
Android Keyboard Gestures
As mentioned, there are a couple of different gestures from iOS on Talkback. Here they are for your reference.
- To activate the “Action” button like on iOS, “Swipe Up” with two fingers.
- To hide the keyboard, “Swipe Down” with two fingers.
- To switch keyboards, “Swipe Down” with 3 fingers.
- For additional options, “Swipe Up” with three fingers.
Oof! A lot of information, right? We do hope this longer article helps you master the ability to type in braille on a mobile device. Of course, if you have any questions, feel free to give us a shout! Happy braille screen typing!