For people who are blind or have severely impaired vision, typing on a smartphone or computer typically requires an expensive and bulky physical braille computer – not exactly convenient if you just want to make a quick reply on your phone.
To help make Android more accessible, Google today revealed its new TalkBack braille keyboard, a virtual keyboard rolling out to devices running Android 5.0 or later.
Google says its team collaborated with braille users and developers while coming up with the feature, and that it should be familiar to anyone who has typed using braille before:
It uses a standard 6-key layout and each key represents one of 6 braille dots which, when tapped, make any letter or symbol. To type an “A” you would press dot 1 and to type a “B,” dots 1 and 2 together.
The keyboard works on any text field in android, and also allows you to delete letters and words, add lines, or submit text. Turning the keyboard on and off works like switching between international keyboards. However, other TalkBack gestures are not supported when the Braille keyboard is activated.
TalkBack is a feature aimed at visually impaired users that gives you spoken feedback on your actions and reads your notifications out loud. It can be enabled in various ways, the easiest of which is pressing both volume keys for three seconds (though you may have to enable the accessibility shortcut on your device).
Once TalkBack is enabled, you can navigate to Accessibility > TalkBack > Settings, and select Braille keyboard. Then you can open an app with a text field, such as Gmail, move focus to the edit field, and select switch input method.
The feature currently only supports braille grade 1 and 2 in English.