Earlier this April, Google’s Product Manager for Android Accessibility Brian Kemler posted on The Keyword about a new Braille-based accessibility feature coming to Android devices. In the post, Brian says that the team worked with Braille developers and users throughout the development process. With this, they introducing the braille keyboard in TalkBack, and it is now available for Android devices running version 5.0 and up.
The Talkback braille keyboard requires no additional app or extra hardware. It uses a six key system that bases itself on braille typing systems used in the past. This is a good start since the system would be familiar to those who have used it before.
The braille keyboard aims to allow easy access to common writing tasks in social media, basic texting and emailing. It has easy-to-use functions for everything you expect from a phone keyboard, such as deleting and replacing text as well as changing lines quickly. Aside from that, Brian also mentioned that switching to the Braille keyboard and back is as easy as “switching between international keyboards.”
The new keyboard is going to be a built-in feature of the Talkback accessibility settings already installed on Android devices. The braille keyboard looks good on paper and may very well be the answer that many visually-impaired users are seeking.
I tried to test the new keyboard out a few days ago, but neither I nor my colleagues were able to access the new feature. It left us to wonder as to what “rolling out” means in this context. I will have to hold off on giving my thoughts on this new feature until the feature is available to test out. For now, we will just have to wait while Google finishes rolling out this new feature.
With so many visually impaired users taking a part in digital media today, this kind of accessibility feature is doubtless a welcome change from the old speech-to-text system and vise-versa that have been poorly implemented in the past. I certainly hope this improves the quality of life for visually impaired users. I look forward to experiencing the finished product soon.