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The Braillists Foundation runs regular Masterclasses introducing various aspects of using braille and available braille technologies.

On this page you can find resources produced by the Braillists Foundation, including recordings and notes from previous events. If you find these resources helpful, please consider attending a Braillists event live.

All audio recordings are also available on our Braillecast podcast, which can be found in your podcast app of choice and is generally more up-to-date than this page.

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Care and Usage of your Perkins Brailler

The Perkins Brailler has been a staple in the lives of braille users ever since the first one was manufactured in Watertown, Massachusetts in 1951. To this day, the Perkins is widely considered to be the most durable braille device on the market, with machines over 50 years old still going strong.

They are so popular, in fact, that it is easy to forget that we need to teach new braillists how to use them! Furthermore, even established braillists do not always know how to diagnose faults when they arise, or how to take the best care of their machines so as to minimise the risks of faults arising in the first place.

On 15 March, we were joined by Alan Thorpe of Eyecan, a certified Perkins Brailler Repair Centre. Alan took us on a tour of the Perkins Brailler, introducing us to the proper names of all of the parts! He explained how to insert paper and write braille, and described some common faults and how to overcome them. He also explained when a professional service or repair may be required and briefly explained the differences between the different models of Perkins Brailler available.

Download Care and Usage of your Perkins Brailler

Braille on iOS

Following our brief introduction to Braille on iOS last year, we’re delighted this year to have been joined by Scott Davert, one of the most well-known authorities on the topic, to explore this winning combination in more detail. Scott is the Coordinator at the Technology, Research and Innovation Center, part of the Helen Keller National Center for DeafBlind Youths and Adults, and serves on the editorial team at AppleVis.

In a series of three Masterclasses, he discussed and demonstrated how to make the most of using your iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch with a braille display, from basic exploration to text editing, web browsing and much more.

Part 3

In this session, Scott explained how to re-assign braille display commands and demonstrated web browsing with a braille display in Safari.

Download Braille on iOS, Part 3

Part 2

In this Masterclass, Scott introduced some more advanced navigation commands, including using the rota, and then discussed and demonstrated text editing.

Download Braille on iOS, Part 2 Download Transcript

Part 1

In the first Masterclass, he covered:

  • Supported braille displays and how to connect them
  • Braille settings in Voiceover
  • Exploring the home screen
  • Some useful braille display commands
Download Braille on iOS, Part 1 Download Transcript

Choosing and Setting UP Your Embosser

In our first Masterclass of 2022, Matthew Horspool tackled the hows, whys and wherefores of braille embossers: choosing them, setting them up and making the most of them. The session covered:

  • The purpose and function of an embosser and why you might want one
  • Different types of embosser
  • Different types of paper
  • Connectivity options
  • The user interface
  • The relationship between embosser and computer
  • The role of translation software
Download Choosing and Setting UP Your Embosser Download Transcript Download Handout

Drawing Pictures With Your Perkins

We were delighted to be joined by Kim Charlson, Executive Director of the Perkins Library (part of Perkins School for the Blind). Kim is author of the book “Drawing with your Perkins Brailler”, which includes step-by-step directions for creating 36 different drawings including shapes, animals and subjects with holiday and transportation themes.

In this session, she used a drawing of a Christmas tree to explain the concepts behind using braille cells to create pictures. Bring a Perkins and some paper and follow along and, by the end of the session, you will have your very own frilly Christmas tree made entirely of braille dots!

Download Drawing Pictures With Your Perkins Download Transcript Download Handout

Leisure Reading with Refreshable Braille, Part 2

This session covered sources of reading material that are more mainstream in nature, including apps or specialist software used to read. These included:

  • Amazon Kindle
  • Local libraries
  • Smaller publishers (e.g. Smashwords
Download Leisure Reading with Refreshable Braille, Part 2 Download Transcript

Leisure Reading with Refreshable Braille, Part 1

We were delighted to have been joined by Sean Randall for a two-part series. Sean is something of a computing and IT mastermind and now works at New College Worcester, training many of their students in the use of assistive technology including screen readers and braille displays.

This session primarily discuss the various braille devices available to consumers. He then provided an overview of libraries and sources of materials specifically for blind people, including:

  • RNIB: reading Services, Bookshare and NTNM
  • The Seeing Ear National Accessible Library
  • Bibles for the Blind
Download Leisure Reading with Refreshable Braille, Part 1 Download Transcript Download Handout

Improving Reading Speed and Building Braille Mastery

It’s a question we get asked all the time – how can I read braille more quickly? To answer it, we were delighted to be joined on Tuesday 19 October by Kit Aronoff of Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and founder of Main Line Accessibility Consulting. Kit has a background in elementary education and, using principals of teaching literacy to emerging readers and articles from the National Federation of the Blind, she has developed a series of strategies which are sure to benefit even the most competent of braillists.

Download Improving Reading Speed and Building Braille Mastery Download Transcript

Braille: Connecting the Dots in 2021

Perhaps you’re thinking about learning braille, but don’t know whether it’s worth it. Maybe you learnt braille as a child, but haven’t used it since. You might know braille and want to use it in your daily life, but can’t work out where it will fit. Or you could be bamboozled by braille technology, gadgets and gizmos.

A panel of passionate braillists met in front of a live audience on Tuesday 12 October 2021 to celebrate National Braille Week. They explored how to overcome common obstacles faced by people who could benefit from reading by touch, sharing a diverse range of perspectives from braille learners to braille experts, technology enthusiasts to people who just need to get on at home or in the workplace. The audience also had the opportunity to ask questions and contribute their own tips and suggestions.

Download Braille: Connecting the Dots in 2021 Download Transcript

An Introduction to Computer Braille

What is computer braille? Are there different flavours? What are all the signs? Why would you want to use it? Is it still relevant now that we have UEB?

The latest occasional Masterclass from RNIB’s braille expert James Bowden answered all of these questions and more.

Download an Introduction to Computer Braille Download Transcript Download Handout

Using Braille on the Internet

Dave Williams, Chairman of the Braillists, explored how to use braille displays with various combinations of screen reader and web browser, unpicked some of the jargon that appears on the display, and explained how to navigate without a QWERTY keyboard or touch screen.

Download Using Braille on the Internet Download Transcript

An Introduction to Grade 3

Most of us know about grade 2, of course, with its 180 contractions designed to make braille quicker to read and write and occupy less space.

Grade 3 extends this concept still further with over 300 additional contractions, rules to allow vowells to be omitted, and provisions for reducing spaces and new lines. Whilst it’s not an officially recognised code, it has a loyal following amongst long-time braillists, who have used it very successfully to take shorthand notes or transcribe passages of text for reading aloud. It’s especially useful in conjunction with a hand frame or slate and stylus.

James Bowden led a Masterclass exploring this code in more detail. Whilst he wasn’t able to cover all of the 300+ contractions in an hour, he did explain the concepts used to form them, introduce some of the most useful ones and the rules which govern their use, and signposted to resources with more information.

Download an Introduction to Grade 3 Download Transcript Download Handout

More information about grade 3 braille can be found in the 23-page pamphlet below. Note, however, that this is a compilation of user research and not an official document. For further support, please email [email protected].

Download “A Summary of Grade 3 Braille” (BRF file, 40 cells by 30 lines, for embossing on 13 inch paper)

JAWS and Braille: A Closer Look

In Using Braille on Windows, we introduced you to the basics of making a braille display work with various screen readers. In this session, we took this to the next level in the first of an occasional series of Masterclasses looking at the braille settings of a particular screen reader.

This time it was JAWS. There are lots of settings and we weren’t able to cover all of them in an hour, so instead we reviewed some of the most common questions we’re asked, found the settings that relate to them, and explained what they do.

We covered:

  • Adding and selecting your braille display
  • Choosing your braille code and grade
  • Status cells and their use in structured mode
  • Reversing panning buttons and panning by paragraph
  • Using JAWS Braille In ™
Download JAWS and Braille: A Closer Look Download Transcript Download Handout

Everything you Ever Wanted to Know about Teaching Braille but were Too Scared to Ask

“Most of us who know braille were taught it.” It sounds like such an obvious statement – so obvious, in fact, that it seems appropriate to conclude that the world has an abundance of braille teachers, and the methods and techniques that they use are mature, uniform and understood by everyone working in the field. Presumably, approaches that work well have been iterated over time, those that haven’t worked so well have been abandoned, and the entire process has been well-documented so that future teachers can learn from the mistakes of the past.

The reality is less clearly defined, although certain concepts which have withstood the test of time especially well have become accepted as common knowledge. Pre-braille skills, for instance, feature regularly in discussions about teaching braille, as do the differences between learning braille by touch and by sight and teaching braille to children and adults.

On Tuesday 29 June 2021, we explored this topic in more detail in a live panel discussion with three braille teachers:

  • Kirsten Roberts is a life-long braille user, a Qualified Teacher of the Visually Impaired (QTVI), and Deputy Braille Tutor for the Mandatory Qualification for Teachers of Children and Young People with Vision Impairments offered at the University of Birmingham. In addition to her university work, she regularly teaches braille to both primary and secondary-aged children.
  • Christine Williams recently retired from Exhall Grange Specialist School and Science College in Coventry, where she held the post of Lead Teacher of the Visually Impaired. In that capacity, she taught braille not only to the pupils at Exhall Grange, but also peripatetically to pupils of all ages in mainstream schools throughout Warwickshire (via the Vision Support Service). Prior to this, she taught French at Exhall Grange for a number of years, where braille also played a significant role. In her retirement, she teaches braille voluntarily at Coventry Resource Centre for the Blind, predominantly to adults who are losing or in danger of losing their sight.
  • Melanie Pritchard has an extensive background in teaching braille to adults, either with visual impairments themselves or who are sighted friends or relatives of people with a visual impairment. Most recently, she taught the Braille For Beginners course remotely for the Braillists Foundation.
Download Everything you Ever Wanted to Know about Teaching Braille but were Too Scared to Ask Download Transcript

Introducing Braille on the Amazon Fire Tablet

Over the years, blind people have benefitted from incredible enhancements in the fields of electronic braille and accessibility in general. In fact, it’s now possible to purchase a fully accessible Amazon Fire tablet for under £50 which, pared with an inexpensive braille display such as an Orbit Reader, and Amazons Kindle store which offers access to quite literally hundreds of thousands of digital books, makes for an incredibly cost-effective braille reading setup. But how does it work?

In this masterclass, presented by Ben Mustill-Rose, we provided a general overview of the Fire tablet, the basics of setting it up, how to connect a braille display and how to navigate the device using it. We then purchased a book from the Kindle store and walked through how to read it on a braille display.

Download Introducing Braille on the Amazon Fire Tablet Download Transcript

Braille in the Kitchen

This Masterclass has a more low tech flavour as we take a wander into the heart of the household. If you’ve ever wondered how to read braille recipes without ruining them or what to do when the label is too big for the jar, this session is for you.

Emma Williams led the session – teacher of Independent Living Skills at New College Worcester, and a familiar voice to many from our Clever Cooking events last year. She drew on a wealth of personal experience of using braille in the kitchen, as well as things which have worked well (and maybe some which haven’t) for her peers and her students.

Download Braille in the Kitchen Download Transcript

An Introduction to Braille on Android

If you’re a blind Android user, you’re bound to have come across Steve Nutt at Computer Room Services. He’s blind himself, been in the accessible smartphone business for over 20 years, and has a vast amount of knowledge and experience when it comes to using smartphones with braille displays.

We’re delighted that he joined us to present an introduction to using an Android device with a braille display. He covered which braille displays work with Android, how to connect them, how to navigate the operating system, other key concepts, and how to use braille input.

Download an Introduction to Braille on Android Download Transcript Download Handout

What is a BRF and Why would you Want one?

We’re starting to hear more and more about BRF files. They’re the default braille format on platforms such as RNIB Reading Services; they’re regularly used in the transcription industry to share braille versions of documents between producers; and notetaker users have used them to transfer files from one brand of braille device to another. This session offered more detail on how BRF files are constructed and how to read, write, navigate and emboss them.

Download What is a BRF and Why would you Want one? Download Transcript Download Handout

How to Choose your Braille Display

We were delighted to be joined by renowned braille display expert Jackie Brown. Jackie is a freelance writer, regular reviewer of braille technology, and author of “Braille ON Display” (published by Mosen Consulting), a comprehensive comparison of braile displays and guide to choosing the right one. She talked us through the process of choosing a braille display. She outlined which factors to consider and why, and the key features of the braille displays which are currently on the market. If you’ve ever wondered “Which braille display is the best one?” you are sure to have the answer at the end of this session.

Download How to Choose your Braille Display Download Transcript

Advocating for braille in the wider world

This session provides advocacy strategies for speaking with businesses in order to get braille menus and signage. We also talk about accessible communication from the NHS and the council.

Download Advocating for Braille in the Wider World Download Transcript Download Handout

Advocating for Braille at Work or University

In this session, we talk about the Access to Work and Disabled Students Allowance schemes. These are government funded schemes which enable disabled people to access support, including braille, in work and education.

Download Getting the Braille you Need in Work or Education Download Transcript Download Handout

Note Taking: Creating Notes for Yourself

This session will introduce you to strategies for taking braille notes for yourself, both digital and hard copy.

Download Taking Notes for Yourself Download Transcript Download Handout

Note Taking: Creating Notes for Others

If you are required to take notes as part of a team, whether that’s in a meeting or for group projects, this session guides you through using braille to take notes that are also visually accessible. We touch on taking notes using a braille display, and writing Markdown in braille to format your notes.

Download Making Notes for Others Download Transcript Download Handout

Using Braille as a Presentation Tool, part 2: Public Speaking

If you need to deliver speeches for work, school, or as part of one of your interests, this session guides you through using braille to present more effectively. We cover writing a presentation script, using cue cards and the best way to set up your braille display or hard copy braille when speaking.

Download Using Braille for Public Speaking Download Transcript Download Handout

Using braille as a presentation tool, part 1: Using Braille with Microsoft PowerPoint and Google Slides

This session covered using a braille display with Microsoft PowerPoint and Google Slides. We guide you through how braille output works with these applications and the ways in which braille output can enable you to deliver more effective presentations.

Download Using Braille with Microsoft PowerPoint and Google Slides Download Transcript Download Handout

Using Braille on iOS

Led by Matthew Horspool, this session explained how to pair a braille display with an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch and how to get the most out of using braille with these devices.

Download Using Braille on iOS Download Transcript Download Handout

Using Braille on Windows

Led by Holly Scott-Gardner, this session explained how to pair a windows PC with a braille display, which screen readers support braille output and some tips and tricks for using braille output.

Download Using Braille on Windows Download Transcript Download Handout

An Introduction to Unified English Braille

Led by James Bowden, Braille Technical Officer at RNIB, this session answered questions such as: How does UEB differ from Standard English Braille? Where can you learn about the changes? What tips and tricks are there for switching to UEB?

Download An Introduction to Unified English Braille Download Transcript Download Handout

World Braille Day 2021

For World Braille Day we were joined by a panel of braille users to discuss how braille enhances their lives, and the future of braille as the needs of the blind community changes. Thanks to Saima Akhtar, Fred Reid and Gary O’Donoghue for participating in this panel.

Download World Braille Day 2021 Download Transcript

An Introduction to the Abacus

What is an abacus and why would you use one? In this session, led by James Bowden, you will learn about the various features of the abacus and why it is ideal for use as a blind person.

The session covers:

  • Physical description and orientation
  • The beads and their meaning
  • Setting numbers
  • Basic addition
  • Overflows and carries
Download an Introduction to the Abacus Download Transcript Download Handout

An Introduction to Braille Labelling

This event, led by Matthew Horspool, acts as an introduction to the various types of braille labels available and how to create your own labels using a range of materials. The session covered using a slate and stylus, a Perkins brailler and a braille labeller to produce labels, as well as tips for labelling various products around the home.

Download an Introduction to Braille Labelling Download Transcript Download Handout

An Introduction to Braille Music

In this practical introduction to braille music we introduce you to braille music notation, how to both read and write braille music, where to access braille music and how to continue learning. This event was led by James Bowden, Braille Technical Officer at RNIB.

Knowledge of contracted braille is required to follow along with the session and the handout, which is located below the media player.

Download An Introduction to Braille Music Download Transcript Download Handout

Using Braille for Learning Languages

This session looked at how to use braille when learning a language, including accessing BRFs and using your iPhone to assist with reading. We discussed various language codes used around the world, including for biblical language study. Participants shared their own experiences learning languages and the various resources they have accessed.
This session was delivered by Holly Scott-Gardner.
Links to the resources discussed in the recording can be found in the notes, which are available for download below the media player.

Download Using Braille for Learning Languages Download Transcript Download Handout

An Introduction to the Slate and Stylus

This event, led by James Bowden, Braille Technical Officer at RNIB, was a practical introduction on using a hand frame (also known as a slate and stylus). The session covered inserting the paper, holding the stylus and writing some characters, as well as some basic types of frame and where to get them. If you have a braille hand frame you can complete the activities as you listen, and use the written notes (found below the media player) to support your learning.

Download An Introduction to the Slate and Stylus Download Transcript Download Handout

Getting Around the Orbit Reader 20

Dave Williams, Brailleists Foundation Chair and Customer Experience Manager at RNIB talks us through the Orbit Reader. What is it, how does it compare to other displays on the market and how can you get one?

Download Getting Around the Orbit Download Transcript Download Handout