June 14, 2024

Braille Book Lets You Touch the Face of the Moon

Cover of "Getting a Feel for Lunar Craters"-black and white moonscape“Getting a Feel for Lunar Craters” is a new book from NASA designed to educate blind and visually impaired people about the Moon’s surface using tactile diagrams. David Hurd, a space science professor at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, created the book along with tactile engineer John Matelock after a visually impaired student enrolled in Hurd’s introductory Astronomy course.

NASA’s Lunar Science Institute is committed to the development of resources to bring lunar science into the world of those who cannot see. ‘Getting a Feel for Lunar Craters’ is one giant step for humankind, making lunar science visible through touch and sound,” said Yvonne Pendleton, director of the NLSI.

“Getting a Feel for Lunar Craters” is an excellent educational tool and we give it a strong BlindGadget 5 Robots rating. It would have been great to have had access to a copy when we took on Astronomy 1014 a few semesters ago. The tactile edition is available from the NASA Lunar Science Institute and there are also text and audio editions available for download.

Braille Gifts for the Blind Gadgeteer

Red t-shirt background studded with Braille dots spelling "Out of Sight"Brailletshirts.com has touchable t-shirts. In fact, that’s the best way to read them. Using genuine Austrian crystals or metallic studs, each Braille dot is placed by hand, then heatset onto the item so there is no irritating attachment point on the inside. To quote the site, these tees are “Quirky, different, tactile and a little bit sensual.”

The owner of Brailletshirts.com, Alice Woodside Lynch, became intrigued when she saw a Braille message in an issue of “Daredevil” (I know, it’s like a theme or something!). She became even more interested when, a short time later, she was diagnosed with macular degeneration and has since gone on to study Braille textbook transcribing.

Her training enables Lynch to use Grade 2 Braille on the t-shirts, though Grade 1 is available if you prefer. The shirts come in black, red or blue, and several styles—short sleeve, long sleeve, zip hoodie, and fleece–and there are nine different crystal colors to choose from.

The shirts can say anything you want, though an especially long phrase may cost a little extra. Here are a few of the suggested messages:

  • “2 hot 2 handle”
  • “sexy” (apparently a great looking word in Braille)
  • “cuddle”
  •  “touch me”
  • “hands off!”
  • “time to get tactile”
  •  “Brailliant!”
  • “Braille readers are leaders”
  • “If you can read this, you are too close”
  • “Differently visioned”
  • “Can you see me now?”

One design is a Braille version of the famous “I heart NY” with the heart outlined in red metal studs, but you can substitute any direct object your own little heart desires.

Brailletshirts.com also has Braille totebags and Braille jewelry. The totes are 12″ by 15″ natural cotton with a Braille manuscript-sized pocket on the front and red or navy trim on the handles and edges.  The Braille phrase of your choice is placed on the front on the pocket or on the back. The pouches are 6″ by 9″, “suitable for cosmetics, travel items, or as a tote for a notecard size slate and stylus.”  The attractive  jewelry–necklaces, earrings, and keyrings–is designed around brass or copper discs embossed with up to six cells of your choice of letter.

Give us a heads up on any cool, fun items you’ve come across in your internet travels. The gift giving season is looming.

6dot Innovations Debuts New Portable Braille Labeler

White portable Braille printer with black buttons6dot Innovations is launching a new, battery-powered, portable Braille labeler which can quickly print out Braille labels. The labels are well suited for prescription bottles, microwave touchpads, canned foods, and just about anything else that needs a label.

6dot founder and chief executive Karina Pikhart said that, while there are a number of other Braille labelers on the market, they tend to be too big and bulky to take along to the pharmacy for example.

The company is based in Palo Alto, California. They have already sold out their first production run of the electro-mechanical labeler which embosses small adhesive labels that stick to just about anything, Pikhart said. She said 6dot is seeking to target the 37 million people worldwide who are blind and will expand to serve the 650 million people around the world with disabilities.

The battery-powered labeler can be an important tool for helping blind people be independent in their everyday lives, Pikhart said. You can connect a standard keyboard to the device so that people who are not Braille literate, such as parents and teachers, can also create labels.

Pikhart, a first-time entrepreneur, started working on the idea at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in a product design class in the fall of 2008. She and two other co-founders, Trevor Shannon and Robert Liebert, developed the original prototypes. They won several contests, including the MIT Ideas Award, the ASNE Mechanical Innovation Showcase, and Stanford University’s product showcase. 6dot is currently raising funds through a Kickstarter campaign.

6dot has received design consultation from the Perkins School and Michael May of Sendero Group. They expect the labeler to sell for about $200 and to begin shipping in the next several weeks.

The Free Screen Reader Challenge

NVDA logo vs. Thunder logoDarren Burton and John Lilly, of the American Foundation for the Blind tech lab, pit the free and open source NVDA screen reader against the free Thunder screen reader in a series of computer tasks. They evaluated the two screen readers on several different computers equipped with Windows XP and Windows 7. The tests included productivity applications such as Microsoft Word and Excel, and online activities like banking, shopping, and using iTunes.

NVDA proved to be the overall winner in the tests and was judged to be a close competitor to the commercially available screen readers. You can read the complete results in their detailed report in the August edition of Access World.

RoboBraille Converts Just About Any File into Accessible Format

RoboBraille logo

RoboBraille is an email and web based service for converting documents into any one of a large number of accessible formats. It is easy to convert a plain text document into Braille, ePub, or audio formats. You can also convert between other formats such as rich text format word (both .doc and .docx), Excel, and PDF. And, just about any image format like JPG, BMP, PCX, TIF, and PDF can be converted into text. Tools are provided for splitting files and changing the character set of a file. RoboBraille supports fifteen different languages and is free for non-commercial use. This is the best file converter we have seen. It is very flexible and produces high quality results (although it did not make much sense of our cell bill).

NVDA Free Screen Reader Latest Release

NV Access has announced a new version of NVDA, the free and open source screen reader for Microsoft Windows. That’s right, I’ll say it again, free and open source screen reader.

NVDA logoAccording to the NVDA website, the screen reader provides “feedback via synthetic speech and Braille, it enables blind or vision impaired people to access computers running Windows for no more cost than a sighted person. Major features include support for over 20 languages and the ability to run entirely from a USB drive with no installation.”

And it’s free!

The new release, version 2011.2,  lists several improvements. NVDA now includes:

  • configurable levels, custom labels and character descriptions for punctuation and symbols
  • no pauses at the end of lines during “say all”
  • better ARIA support in IE
  • improved XFA/LiveCycle PDF documents
  • greater access to text written to the screen
  • access to formatting and color info for text written to the screen

The creators and developers of NVDA, Michael Curran and James Teh (yes, I typed that correctly, autocorrect!) felt that people should not have to pay extra to be able to use a computer just because they have low-to-no vision.

In a quote from the Queensland University of Technology website, Mr. Teh said, “A sighted person takes for granted that they can sit down at any computer and use it.We really are in the information age – everything is online these days. So access to computers for the blind and vision impaired is incredibly important, which is why we wanted our software to be free. …[NVDA] can also be copied to a USB stick, which can be used on any PC at school or university, with no installation required.”

What is your favorite screen reader? Do you think screen readers should be included with the operating system, a la Voiceover? Give us your opinion in a comment.

Tracking Down Accessible Books


One of the challenges we face every semester is tracking down all of our textbooks in accessible media. It can be a real scavenger hunt picking through the wide variety of sources and formats available today. In a single semester, the mix may include recorded AccessText Searchaudio, plain text in PDF format, or any of the various indexed formats such as DAISY and epub. And then, when no other source can be found, there are the dreaded scanned textbooks that come with their own set of problems.

Most schools and universities have a professional who assists students with the task of procuring textbooks in accessible media. However, there are many times when it is necessary for us to do the leg work ourselves to ensure we have all the materials we need. A great resource for finding the books we need for school is the AccessText Network .

The mission of the AccessText Network is to help “college students with print disabilities by connecting their disability service offices directly with leading textbook publishers” to obtain textbooks in accessible media. Although membership to the AccessText Network is limited to educational institutions, the free search engine available on their web site is a very convenient way to search the catalogs of a growing number of textbook publishers and accessible media providers including the National Library Service, Book Share, and Learning Ally.

In order to search for textbooks, navigate to http://www.accesstext.org and click on the “Accessible Textbook Finder” link. Select “ISBN” or “Title”  and select the catalogs you would like to search (all are selected by default) and click on the “Search” button. The page is very accessible and easy to use with a screen reader.

Let’s give it a try. A search for the commonly assigned Computer Science textbook “Introduction to Automata Theory” found one result. Since the result was found in the AccessText Network catalog, the accessible media edition will have to be requested through the university’s disabled student services office. Had the book been found at Book Share or Learning Ally, we could have immediately downloaded from their web site using our personal membership accounts.

What about general reading titles? We decided to try a search for a title by one of our favorite Science Fiction writers, Jim Butcher. The first book in his Dresden Files series is called “Storm Front.” We clicked on “New Search,” changed the search type to “Title” and typed in the name. Scrolling down to the search results, we found that the book is available from both the National Library Service and Book Share. This means we have three accessible media format choices: formatted Braille (BRF), Digital Talking Book (DAISY) from Book Share, or  recorded audio from the National Library Service. The ability to search the National Library Service, Book Share, and Learning Ally in a single search is perhaps the best feature of the book finder for most individual readers.

What hoops and hurdles have you faced in your quest for higher learning? Leave a comment with some of your experiences with tracking down books in accessible media.