Thursday, September 18, 2014

New in iOS 8: Built-in Braille Keyboard for Six-Dot Input

iOS 8 includes enhancements to VoiceOver, the built-in gesture based screen reader for people with visual impairments. One of the improvements is a new built-in Braille Keyboard for Six-Dot input. The new feature is similar to the BrailleTouch app released a few years ago with one major difference; the built-in option can be used to enter text into any app directly. The option can be enabled in the VoiceOver rotor. The Braille keyboard will offer VoiceOver users who are familiar with Braille an alternative, and possibly much faster text entry method. iOS 8 will also offers third-party keyboards such as Fleksy which could also offer significantly faster text input for VoiceOver users.

Once you turn the Braille keyboard on six positions will appear on screen representing the six Braille dots. When the device is held with the screen perpendicular to the floor it automatically enters screen away mode. When using this mode the user faces the screen away allowing three fingers from each hand to contact the screen. As the user begins to type the six virtual dots automatically reposition themselves to compensate for changes in your grip. The dots can also be recalibrated by holding down the three right hand fingers and then the three left hand fingers immediately after. This positions the dots directly under your fingers.

When the device is set on the table or another flat surface the Braille keyboard enters tabletop mode. This mode would seem to be ideal for an iPad can can also be used on smaller devices. It does take some care to ensure that the keyboard does not switch between tabletop and screen away mode accidentally. In both modes typing did seem difficult on the small screen, but some practice seemed to improve typing speed. This new option allows typing with contracted or uncontracted Braille. When typing a swipe right adds a space and a swipe left deletes the last character typed. This new method of typing is very sensitive a will likely require practice before mastering. If you use this feature frequently, it maybe helpful to purchase a case that boarders the screen to avoid trying to type on the bezel.

To enable the Braille keyboard go to Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Rotor > Braille Screen Input. Then, when VoiceOver is enabled, rotate the rotor until Braille screen input is selected. It exciting to see all the new third-party keyboard options for iOS 8, but for VoiceOver users, Apple's own Braille keyboard maybe the most exciting of all.

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