My top four picks for Braille iDevice users in the books category

Blog Date: 
Thursday, March 27, 2014

By Scott Davert


In my previous article we looked at the top four app picks I have for users of Braille devices in the news category. Browsing the news is a wonderful thing that users, whether blind or deaf-blind, can do via Braille just fine; another is reading books. Over the past year, many book retailers have made their content accessible. However, some have distinct advantages over others in terms of Braille access. Continuing with the theme I started last time, here are my four picks for the book reading apps category for Braille users. The same disclaimer about this not being a list of all accessible apps and such still applies.

Take it to go

The only app that will be mentioned that’s not free, is the Read2Go app developed by Benetech and giving access to the Bookshare collection of books. While iDevices do not support continuous reading of books by Braille displays, among the options available in this app is the ability to read by section. This means that instead of having to press Space with o, or another equivalent depending on your Braille display, to turn the page, you will only need to go forward once you have finished reading a chapter. There is the option to read by page if you’d rather have that, but if you’re like me, the less scrolling you have to do, the faster you can read. The other nice thing about this app is that you can download and search the Bookshare collection from within the app, download the chosen content, and be reading within a couple of minutes. Read2Go is available for $19.99 in the US App Store. While some people may think that Voice Dream Reader is an option worth considering, I don’t enjoy the fact that the last few words from the previous page are repeated on the next page. As such, I still find the Read2Go app to be the quickest way to read and download Bookshare content, particularly for users who are either more novice, or who do not wish to mess around with conversion options. Also, the subscription to Bookshare and the one-time fee of $19.99 pays for itself quickly, as the content is free, if you’re a qualifying user who is an avid reader like I am. For those wishing to know about some other conversion options, don’t worry, we’ll be discussing these further.

Apple has an app for that

One of the mainstream eBook providers, Apple, makes the iBooks app and its content almost entirely accessible to individuals wishing to read their content through speech and/or Braille. You can download and purchase content, and start reading immediately after the book has downloaded. The one annoyance with iBooks is that once you get to the end of a page, you go in to the menu located to the right of the displayed text. You need to pan back left, and then press Space with o to go to the next page. Whether you wish to read in contracted or uncontracted Braille, iOS has you covered. You can also read Bookshare content through iBooks if you’d like, just follow the steps below. If you don’t want to bother with this process, feel free to skip to the next heading. Also note, it is legal to convert files for personal use only. The act of file sharing of material under copyright is not something I condone and is illegal if the content is copyright protected. Bookshare does see this as a legit use of their books for personal use, as you can read here (search with keyword "conversion"). You’ll need to download and install Dropbox to do this, and have it set up on whatever device you download the Bookshare content onto. This will not work if you are only using an iDevice. You will also need to install the free Dropbox app on your iDevice. The steps, loosely outlined, are below.
1. Download the DAISY text only format of the book you wish to convert.
2. Unzip the files to where you can find them.
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 a .htm extention, and then open it.
4. Press Control-a on Windows or Command-a on the Mac to select all, Control-C or command-C to copy, and then open a word processor and paste the content in to 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 emailed to the address you supplied. Note that some software such as Kurzweil 1000 and Dolphin Easy converter can also do this, though these options are not free, like Robobraille is.
6. Download the attachment, and put it in the Dropbox folder you plan to open the book on in 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 how long the book is, your Bookshare book will be added to your iBooks library and will open in the iBooks app.

Braille from the Amazon

Amazon’s Kindle app is one example of a job quite well done by a mainstream eBook reader app. It has one unique feature which makes reading much more enjoyable for Braille users than on iBooks or the Nook app. Once you open a book, unlike what I wrote above about iBooks, the only thing that is on the screen will be the text of the book itself. So while you will still need to turn pages, you won’t have to worry about being slowed down even further by having to predict where the end of the page will be, or scrolling left from the menu. As soon as you get to the end of the page, you know it’s time to move to the next one. The downside to this app is that purchasing Kindle books involves either logging in to 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 type of files in to the Kindle app by converting them to a supported format and then following the instructions using the Personal Documents service found here

No scrolls bard

Bard Mobile is an app that gives qualifying patrons of the National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) access to all of their content downloadable to your iDevice using their app. This includes files in the digital Braille format. This app allows for the viewing of contracted Braille files in contracted Braille only. You will not be able to use this app to read anything in uncontracted Braille due to the way in which it was designed. You can download content directly from the NLS Braille collection very quickly, and can then read the book or magazine right away. Once in a book, be sure that eight dot mode is on, which can be toggled by space with the letter g to turn contractions off, and then 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 which make it a unique option. Better still, once you start reading a book, there is no page turning involved for the Braille user. For further details, please consult chapter 7 of the Bard mobile 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, please see this guide for details.