Google releases TalkBack braille keyboard on Android

Helping the vision impaired type directly on their Android devices without needing to connect a physical braille keyboard.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Google has released the TalkBack braille keyboard on Android to allow users who are vision impaired or have low vision to type on their phones without any additional hardware.

According to Google Android Accessibility product manager, Brian Kemler, the new feature removes the need to connect a physical braille keyboard. 

"It's a fast, convenient way to type on your phone without any additional hardware, whether you're posting on social media, responding to a text, or writing a brief email," he said in a blog post.  

"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."

Kemler said the keyboard uses a standard six-key layout and each key represents one of six braille dots which, when tapped, make any letter or symbol. For instance, pressing dot 1 would type an A and pressing dots 1 and 2 together would type a B.

It can be used where typing is usually involved and allows for letters and words to be deleted, lines added, and text to be submitted.

Image: Supplied/Google

The Talkback braille keyboard can be turned on and set up through the accessibility section within settings, and can be switched on and off, much like international keyboards.

TalkBack gestures, however, are not supported when the keyboard is on, Google said.

The keyboard has been rolled out to Android devices running version 5.0 or later, supports braille grade 1 and 2, and will be available initially in English. Google said the new keyboard would work across all apps on the device.

Early last year, the tech giant introduced Live Transcribe and Sound Amplifier to Android to help the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.

Live Transcribe, like its namesake, uses a phone's microphone to transcribe real-world speech into captions in real-time. 

Sound Amplifier uses a phone and a set of headphones to filter, augment, and amplify sounds so that users can better hear conversations or announcements in noise-heavy environments.  

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