Sam Graves

What is Electronic Braille?

Blind and visually impaired people (and others) worldwide use braille daily to communicate with others. In addition to hard-copy braille, blind and visually impaired people may use electronic braille. 

Electronic braille, sometimes referred to as soft braille, is in a specially formatted document. It can be read with braille notetakers or electronic braille machines. 

Two primary types of electronic braille files are BRF (Formatted Braille) and PEF (Portable Embosser Format)

Both file types include braille signs. Since electronic braille is a digital file containing a document already written in braille, there is no need for further braille conversion.

How can I read electronic braille?

Braille users can read electronic braille with a screen reader and refreshable braille display. Users can open electronic braille files with regular word processing or text editing programs such as Windows Notepad or Microsoft Word. Users can then read the text with the usual navigation keys, using either the screen reader or refreshable braille display.

Users can also read electronic braille with stand-alone braille notetakers. Using a braille notetaker, you can load an electronic braille file onto the notetaker (it does not have to be connected to a computer). Users can then read the text using standard navigation keys on their notetakers.

Sighted people may also like to read braille. They can read electronic braille visually on a computer screen through a braille translation package. If they do not have a braille translation package, they can still read electronic braille visually by loading the file into a word processor and then changing the font to a braille font such as Braille or SimBraille.

Embossing electronic braille

You will need braille translation software to emboss a copy of electronic braille. It is vital to ensure that the settings for the number of characters per line and lines per page match the braille translation software and embosser settings.

Next, load the electronic braille file onto a computer, and the document will be automatically translated into braille.

Finally, ensure that the electronic braille displays correctly on the screen

Advantages of electronic braille

Electronic braille can be accessed easily in tight spaces like airplanes and can be stored more conveniently since no paper is involved. Additionally, unlike hard-copy braille, electronic braille dots do not wear or fade over time.

Some braille readers may find electronic braille more convenient than hard-copy braille books, which are generally bulky and expensive.

Disadvantages of electronic braille

Despite the advantages of electronic braille, many people still prefer hard-copy braille. Hard-copy braille is more accessible for reviewing documents and can always be accessed, even when the power in one’s home goes out. Hard-copy braille allows for better reader fluency, and many braille users enjoy feeling the braille dots on a page. 

Braille users may not have the necessary tools to read electronic braille, like a refreshable braille display or screen reader. 

Braille users may also be unable to read electronic braille and have to get information through hard-copy braille. 

Finally, since refreshable braille displays almost all of the text in only one line, hard-copy braille can be more useful when learning how text is laid out and formatted. For example, spatial layouts become essential when examining mathematical material and musical scores, so hard-copy braille is better suited for those situations.

Should I use electronic or hard-copy braille?

Braille users will often choose a solution based on the situation and the type of document being prepared. In addition to the advantages and disadvantages previously described, hard-copy braille works well for documents containing private information or documents requiring readers to make crucial decisions.

Electronic braille works well for conferences and presentations. It must conform to Section 508 and the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). Ultimately, organizations should ask their clients which formats they prefer.

Braille is a necessity

Both electronic and hard-copy braille have advantages and disadvantages. However, both are crucial for providing equal experiences to individuals who are blind or visually impaired. Ultimately, the choice between the two is a matter of personal preference. Allyant has several team members who are experts in both forms of braille. If you have any queries, feel free to reach out to us!