Braille and Digital Accessibility: Working Together One Cell at a Time
When digital accessibility became a thing, most of the focus was on people living only with blindness. At the time, hardware speech synthesizers and software speech synthesizers existed, and there were also Braille displays. However, Braille displays were so expensive that very few people could afford them.
Braille is the oldest form of accessibility. It dates back to 1824, when Louis Braille, at age 15, developed a system allowing blind people to read. Although not a digital technology, Braille adapted content to make it accessible for people with disabilities.
For deafblind people, Braille is the only manner of accessing the digital world. A Braille display, when connected to a computer or mobile device, can be the difference between a world of disconnection and the means to connect with other people. In fact, it is much easier for a deafblind person to communicate using a Braille display than any other method, because they are systems that anyone can use for independent communication and require very little specialized knowledge. In the past, deafblind people could only communicate with others who knew tactile sign language or wrote with a Braille stylus.
Also, many blind people use Braille as a faster way to read than speech. Objectively, it provides a closer experience to a sighted person’s view of the web than does speech. With Braille, blind people are reading the screen content themselves, not having it being read to them by a software screen reader (text-to-voice).
Braille is often overlooked, or seen as a competitor to digital accessibility, but the truth is that a Braille display and accessible websites and apps can work together. And almost everything accessible by screen readers are also accessible when reading in Braille. When you make your digital content accessible, you are allowing blind people to “read” the content, not only listen to it. When online content is not accessible, blind people are barred from being able to read it much the same way that printed books without transcription were not readable by the blind before the digital age.