Freeing Refreshable Braille for More Access

Many in this era worry that the advent of digital audio technology will mean the end of braille as we know it. And there is already some truth to this, as very few totally blind people know or read braille as it is. But and I’ve seen this frequently in my training, those who depend heavily on audio to consume written content often are less able to spell correctly, which may well affect their ability to gain employment. Given the degree to which the cards are already stacked against us when it comes to getting jobs even without this challenge, we need to gain every advantage we can in any area.
These days, the answer to being more able to read materials in braille without having to produce the paper and take up the space this medium requires is to use a refreshable braille display. I’ve had a few of these devices, from the Braille Lite I got way back in the late 90s during my college career to the Brailliant BI 40 received from the I Can Connect program for deafblind individuals. And in 2020, I of course got the Mantis Q40 display I’ve written about a few times in this journal. And each of those devices opened up more of the written word in ways I could not have imagined.
The problem with these displays is and has been their expense. Most of us blind folks can hardly afford $2, 3, or $4,000 to get even a low-end display. Happily though, at least in the U.S, the National Library Service for the Blind (NLS) is making refreshable braille available for any eligible blind individuals. You have to be enrolled in the library for services, as I am, and call your regional library to request one.
There are two models of NLS Ereaders, as they are known: one provided through Humanware and another through Zoomax. I think you get the brand of reader that your library has available, so I received the Zoomax machine.
These models contain 20 braille cells, which is as much space as I had on my Braille Lite but only half the 40 cells on my other units. Reading with 20 cells is certainly doable, but it requires a lot more pressing of the panning buttons to advance through a single braille line. I’ve found though that as I practice I’m already getting better at it. My Mantis is currently on the fritz and I don’t know when or if I’ll ever see it again, so having this option so quickly available is vital to me being able to continue my work. I also like that it has a handy carrying case with magnetic snaps that keep it closed, which is kinda cool!
This reader is primarily designed to download and read NLS BARD books. However, it can connect via Bluetooth to your smartphone, and USB to the PC. It’s got an SD Card reader, and USB C port for the PC and a USB A port for a flash drive. I love that such a small unit contains so many ports.
It’s a pretty good device on the whole. The only issue I really notice, and this may be only in my unit, is that the battery gauge is unreliable. It says I have 50% charge, then 77%, then 19%, then 54%, so I can’t really tell how much juice it actually has. This is not a big deal though, as I’m usually close enough to a charging port at all times. I even have a portable battery I can plug in.
I am happy such a program exists. If you would like to take advantage of it, again just call your regional library and ask if they have an NLS Ereader. There was a slow roll-out, but they were at least hoping that all states would have units by the end of 2023. And happy reading!

2024 Arrives: On Work and Books

Hello to 2024! I know, I was pretty much nonexistent in this blog last year as I adjusted to full-time work on the computer. I probably said the same thin in my prior entry, but it’s been so long since I wrote that that I can no longer recall.
Anyway, I thought I’d quickly catch whomever still reads this thing up on my life’s goings on. And well as much as I’m about to have to shell out to keep this site active, I figured it was high time to start generating content.
Work is work. I pray, and feel like, I’ve really settled into this role now. I’ve chugged away at teaching JAWS in various formulations and based on the folks with whom I’m working. Every day is an important lesson in that regard. And of course every trainer is only as good as the learning they take on. So to that end, I continue to obtain certifications. I just got my NVDA screen-reader certification last week. I’m happy for that, but still have much to learn about that program. It’s free though, so could be useful for those who might not be able to swing JAWS. And that studying broadened my knowledge to boot. This work takes a lot of thinking at times, but it can also be quite rewarding.
And now I’ll document my reading. Because of course I’ve been doing more reading than writing, which I’d like to start to change someday but I ain’t making promises no more y’all. This year, thanks to my learning how to use Excel as part of the training I can now deliver, I created a handy spreadsheet to help keep track of the books I read, in addition to adding them to the Goodreads app so I could see what others have read as well. In total, I completed 79 books. Only 13 of them were nonfiction, I listened to 43 audiobooks and read 33 in braille. I assigned a 5-star rating to 30 of my books and gave only 3 of them 3 stars. I just didn’t finish nooks I would likely have rated lower, because there is not enough time to read the ones I want to read, let alone slogging through something I’m just not into. I’ll put my 5-star reads at the end, if you’re curious.
And that’s what I’ve had going on for the last little while. I’m curious to see how 2024 unfolds. 2023 was probably the best year of my adult life, something I’ve been saying since 2015, with the exception of course of the Covid-warped years of 2020 and 2021. So hopefully the up and up continues.
Five-Star Reads
1. Invisible Child, Andrea Elliot
2. Thank You for Listening, Julia Wheelan
3. Memphis, Tara Stringfellow
4. Hell Bent, Leigh Bardugo
5. The Maid, Nita Prose
6. The Calculating Star, Mary Robinette Kowal
7. The Fated Sky, Mary Robinette Kowal
8. The Relentless Moon, Mary Robinette Kowal
9. Corrections in Ink, Keri Blakinger
10. Loyalty, Lisa Scottoline
11. Woman On Fire, Lisa Barr
12. City of Refuge, Tom Piazza
13. The German Wife, Kelly Rimmer
14. My Love Story, Tina Turner
15. Drowning, T.J. Newman
16. African Town, Irene Latham
17. The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece, Tom Hanks
18. The Apollo Murders, Chris Hadfield
19. Remarkably Bright Creatures, Shelby Van Pelt
20. Out of the Corner, Jennifer Grey
21. The Last Thing He Told Me, Laura Dave
22. River Sing Me Home, Eleanor Shearer
23. The Catch Me If You Can, Jessica Nabongo
24. Things We Lost to the Water, Eric Nguyen
25. Cabin Fever, Michael Smith
26. Happiness Falls, Angie Kim
27. The Country of the Blind, Andrew Leland
28. Three Words for Goodbye, Hazel Gaynor
29. None of This is True, Lisa Jewel
30. Borderless, Jennifer De Leon