Google this week introduced a virtual braille keyboard integrated directly into Android. Visually impaired users can ditch their cumbersome external hardware for the built-in convenience of TalkBack.
“As part of our mission to make the world’s information universally accessible, we hope this keyboard can broadly expand braille literacy and exposure among blind and low-vision people,” Brian Kemier, Android Accessibility product manager, wrote in a blog post.
Created in collaboration with braille developers, TalkBack uses a standard six-key layout in which each key represents one of six braille dots. To type an “A,” for example, you’d tap dot one; to type a “B,” press dots one and two together. There are 64 possible combinations in English Braille, including no dots for a space. Cells can be used to represent a letter, digit, punctuation mark, or even a full word.
To enable the new feature in Android, navigate to Settings > Accessibility > TalkBack > Settings > Braille keyboard, then select “Tap to set up.” (Visit the Android Accessibility Help page online for more detailed instructions.) Swipe up with three fingers to practice with the gestures tutorial or down with two to hide it.
TalkBack can be used “anywhere you would normally type,” according to Google (which also noted that the keyboard is not yet supported in Docs or Messages), and allows users to delete letters and words, add lines, and submit text. The screen reader even provides spoken feedback and notifications.
Google’s braille keyboard is rolling out now to devices running Android 5.0 or higher. Once installed, it’s easily accessible by pressing both volume keys for three seconds or through the Settings app. TalkBack currently supports only Unified English Braille grades one and two.