My Top Book-Reading Apps for Braille Users by Scott Davert, AppleVis Editorial Team

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Guest blogger Scott Davert, M.A., VRT, is an AppleVis Editorial Team Member and a Senior Instructor in the Adaptive Technology Department and Communications Learning Center at the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults.

Most recently, Scott compiled his top picks for news apps that are user-friendly and accessible to braille users. This week, Scott reviews his personal picks for the top book-reading apps for braille users.

Says Scott, "During the past year, many book retailers have made their content accessible. Some apps, however, have distinct advantages in terms of braille access; thus, here are my personal 'top four' book-reading app picks."

1. Take It "To Go"

The Read2Go app, developed by Benetech, provides access to the Bookshare collection of digital e-Books.

One problem with iDevices is that they do not support continuous reading of books via braille displays. A helpful option in the Read2Go app, however, is the ability to read by section. This means that to turn the page, you will need to go forward only when you have finished reading a chapter instead of having to press space with "o" to turn each page – or an equivalent command, depending upon your braille display.

There is also the option to read by page, but if you're like me, the less scrolling I have to do, the faster I can read. The other nice thing about this app is that you can search the Bookshare collection from within the app, download your chosen content, and be reading within a couple of minutes.

Read2Go is available for $19.99 in the United States iTunes App Store. The subscription to Bookshare and the one-time fee for Read2Go will pay for themselves quickly if you're a qualifying user and avid reader (like me), since all Bookshare content is free.

2. Apple Has an App for That

Apple, a mainstream eBook provider, makes the iBooks app. The app and its content are almost entirely accessible to readers who use speech and/or braille, both contracted and uncontracted.

You can download and purchase content and begin reading immediately after the book has downloaded. One problem I have with the iBooks app is that when I reach the end of a page, I find that I'm moving into the menu located to the right of the displayed text. To go to the next page, I need to pan back left, and then press space with "o."

You can also read Bookshare content through iBooks. You'll need to download and install Dropbox to do this, and have it set up on whatever device you use to download Bookshare content. This will not work if you are only using an iDevice. You will also need to install the free Dropbox app on your iDevice.

These are the steps to follow:

  1. Download the Digital Accessible Information SYstem (DAISY) text-only format of the book you want to convert.
  2. Unzip the files to a location/folder that you select.
  3. Go to that folder and open the .xml file. This should open in a web browser. If it doesn't display correctly, rename the .xml file to an .htm extension and then open it.
  4. Press Control+A on Windows or Command+A on the Mac to select "all"; press Control+C or Command+C to copy; then open a word processor and paste the content into the new document.
  5. Save the file in .rtf, Word, or plain text, and then head on over to RoboBraille and follow the steps to convert to the ePub format. Once complete, the attachment will be e-mailed to the address you supplied.
  6. Download the attachment and place it in a Dropbox folder you can access on your iDevice.
  7. On your iDevice, launch the Dropbox app, find the file, and press a cursor routing button on it. Wait about 30 seconds, and then press space with "dots 4-5-6" to get to the export button on the lower right corner of the screen.
  8. Choose "open in iBooks" and after a delay, the length of which depends on the size of the book, your Bookshare book will be added to your iBooks library and will open in the iBooks app.

Please note that it is legal to convert files for personal use only. The act of file-sharing copyrighted material is not something I condone and it is illegal if the content is copyright-protected. You can read more about this issue at Bookshare's Support Center and FAQs, where Bookshare seems to indicate this is a legitimate use of their books for personal use.

3. Braille from the Amazon

Amazon's Kindle app is one example of a job quite well done by a mainstream eBook reader app.

The Kindle app has a unique feature that makes reading more enjoyable for braille users than with iBooks or the Nook app. Once you open a book, the only thing on the screen is the text of the book itself. Thus, while you will still have to turn pages, you won't have to worry about being slowed down by (a) having to predict where the end of the page will be, or (b) scrolling left from the menu. As soon as you get to the end of the page, you'll know it's time to move to the next one.

The downside to this app is that purchasing Kindle books involves either logging into the mobile site with Safari on your iDevice or purchasing it through a PC or Mac. You can even import documents, Bookshare content, or any other word processing files into the Kindle app by converting them to a supported format and then following the instructions, using the Kindle Personal Documents Service.

4. No Scrolls BARD

BARD Mobile is an app that gives qualifying patrons of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) access to all of their content, downloadable to your iDevice using their app. This includes files in digital braille format.

The BARD Mobile app allows viewing of braille files in contracted braille only. You will not be able to use this app to read anything in uncontracted braille. You can learn more about the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) service at the NLS website.

You can download content directly from the NLS braille collection very quickly, and can then read the book or magazine right away. Once you are in a book, be sure that "eight-dot mode" is on, which can be toggled by pressing space with "g" to turn contractions off. Press space with "dots 2-3-6" to toggle eight-dot mode on.

The iOS app also allows for book-marking, remembers your place when you exit the app, and has many other keyboard shortcuts that make it a unique option. Even better still, once you start reading a book, there is no page turning involved for the braille user.

For additional details, consult Chapter 7 of the BARD Mobile Application User Guide. You can also import .brf files from other sources if you copy them to your Dropbox folder. For a guide on this process, read Importing BRF files to the BARD Mobile app using Dropbox.

Additional Information

For more information, you can contact Scott at scott.davert@hknc.org.


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