Technology Needs in the Secondary Setting:

Learners who use braille


In early 2022, a short-life working group was set up to explore the technology used by pupils who are braille users and attend secondary school. In order to get a fuller understanding two adult users of braille and technology were also part of the group. This article is primarily to help (Q)TVIs who may be considering technology for any pupil who is a competent braille user.

The Scottish Sensory Centre would like to thank:

The Need to Learn Additional Skills

Children and young people with visual impairment (CYPVI) require adaptation of curricular materials to ensure equal access to the curriculum. Furthermore, due to the absence of acquiring and developing fundamental skills through incidental learning, CYPVI need to be equipped with specific skills to compensate for their reduced vision. These skills, in assistive technology, orientation and mobility, social skills and self-advocacy are additional to those delivered under traditional academic subject areas, and need to be delivered from an early age by specialist teachers (Douglas and Hewett, 2014; Sapp & Hatlen, 2010; Spungin & Ferrell, 2007). These skills help to maximise the CYPVI's independence and long-term development.

Literature has shown that ignoring the development of these preparatory skills when they are young will lead to inadequate preparation, skills and knowledge for successful transition to higher education or adulthood for this group (Ajuwon & Oyinlade, 2008).

Muhammad-Ali Nadeem with his Polaris and the BrailleNote Touch.

Stuart says:

"The first and most important point to note is that each client I work with will have different goals, aspirations, needs and circumstances which in turn will impact on the technology which will suit their own particular requirements. It is therefore vital that from the very beginning of each client's journey, you have a clear understanding of said goals, aspirations, needs and, especially if a client is in education, what their future plans are."

The Role of the Qualified Teacher of Visual Impairment

The QTVI plays a vital role in introducing specialist pieces of technology to children and young people with VI. The Curriculum Framework for Children and Young People with Vision Impairment (CFVI) (Hewett et al, 2002) outlines some of the skills which need to be explicitly taught. For example:

Area 7: Accessing Information

Area 8: Technology

What Is a Braille Notetaker?

Dedicated Braille notetakers do so much more than just take notes. They allow the user to read and write files in a number of formats, keep track of contacts and appointments, do calculations, listen to media files, handle email, create voice memos, and do basic web browsing. Notetakers cannot take the place of computers but they can be an extremely useful supplement. They are portable and crucially they are the primary option available for people who want to read and write electronically in braille.


Humanware sells the BrailleNote Touch Plus with 18 or 32 cell displays.

Sight and Sound Technology sell the BrailleSense 6 (32 cell display) and the BrailleSense 6 Mini (20 cell display).

Review of Braille Notetakers

Three senior pupils who use different braille notetakers were asked to share their opinions of them. Some pupils use Humanware's BrailleNote Touch, the previous model to the BrailleNote Touch Plus. The BrailleSense Polaris is Sight and Sound Technology's previous model to the BrailleSense 6.

The BrailleNote Touch

The Braille note touch is a device that allows for visually impaired people to take notes on things. It is very effective in classroom environment. It is equipped with a screen which can be accessed when the keyboard is flipped over.

It is also relatively easy to use the UEB maths setting but also easy to lose work as well.

The internet can also be accessed through the Touch.

However, accessing files is limited as the BrailleNote Touch can only open Word files.

I used my BrailleNote Touch at school to take notes and email the work that I do.

Image of the BrailleNote Touch showing the screen and 32 cell braille display.
Image of the BrailleNote Touch showing the Perkins keyboard and the 32 cell display.

The BrailleNote Touch Plus

The Touch Plus is very limited on what filetypes can be used. It can open PDFs, but it gets converted to a Word document which takes time. The Touch is improving more and more as you can now open PowerPoints. The touch quite often stops working and it is quite difficult to fix.

The Touch Plus has a programme called KeyMaths. I love this because it is so much more stable, and clearer to make out maths symbols. The calculator can also be used and you can input in UEB Maths code. However, it is in fraction mode by default and this takes time to change. The Touch Plus does better over the Polaris in Maths.

BrailleSense Polaris

One advantage of using this piece of technology is that it can open different types of documents. For example, this wonderful piece of equipment can read anything from docx files, text files, PowerPoints, PDFs and much more. I really like this because you can open a file straight from your email and instantly view the document. It also means less reliance on having to convert files just to use them. However, one downside of this is that many of these filetypes can't be edited, which poses a particular challenge when you need to edit something. The Polaris can also be used as a fantastic internet resource, but sometimes it doesn't give accurate results which can sometimes limit me using this feature. The Polaris can also send emails which I love because I can have emails at my fingertips when I need them.

Image of the BrailleSense Polaris.

In addition, the Polaris has a lighter weight and a well-designed strap that allows me to carry it over my shoulder if I cannot fit it in to a bag.

Where the Polaris lets a lot of users down is its inability to carry out maths tasks. The Polaris has a programme for maths; however, I find it quite clunky and unreliable due to maths signs not showing up correctly.

However, all pieces of tech have their flaws and the Polaris is no different. The Polaris, unlike the touch does not come with its own screen, instead a screen must be connected to the Polaris using an HDMI cable.

The Importance of Training

Training is vital to ensure that the child/young person can use the device effectively and efficiently. Companies that sell notetakers and third party specialists will offer training and this should be factored into the budget. Stuart says:

"It is important to have teachers and relevant staff present in the training sessions, with a view that staff can then take notes on best practice and pass it on to other clients when appropriate. Mainly due to limited availability of all involved because of the curriculum, training is usually provided through online platforms such as Microsoft Teams and this does work well, although there is really no substitute for face-to-face training, especially if a client is struggling with a particular topic."

Summer Quigley used the Polaris and the BrailleNote Touch Plus. In Maths, both were used to make accessibility better.

The Last Word – No Limits

In the same way that children and young people who are fully sighted use a range of tools – pen and paper, laptop, tablet and phone, then the same access should be provided for children and young people with severe sight impairment. The last word goes to T who used a BrailleNote in school:

"Now that I have left school I would have liked to practice using JAWS on the computer because I think it is a good thing to learn and is useful for getting a job.
At home I use an iPhone. I prefer to use my phone because the smaller screen is easier to use with voiceover. I can also have everything on the 1 device and can access it wherever I am. I use an app called Seeing AI because I can read text on photos and also get descriptions of people."

Further Reading

BrailleNote Touch Plus or BrailleSense Polaris: Which One Is Right for You? (AFB)

An overview of Braille Devices (Perkins)

Electronic Notetakers (Braille) (AFB)



Sight and Sound Technology


Ajuwon, P M & Oyinlade, A O (2008) 'Educational placement of children who are blind or have low vision in residential and public schools: a national study of parents' perspectives.' Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 102 (6), pp113-132.

Douglas, G and Hewett, R (2014) 'Views of independence and readiness for employment amongst young people with visual impairment in the UK.' The Australian Journal of Rehabilitation Counselling, 20 (2), pp81-99.

Ferrell, K A, and Spungin, S J (2007) The role and function of the teacher of students with visual impairments. Arlington, VA: Council for Exceptional Children, Division on Visual Impairments.

Hewett, R ... [et al] (2022) Curriculum Framework for Children and Young People with Vision Impairment (CFVI): Defining specialist skills development and best practice support to promote equity, inclusion and personal agency. RNIB.

Sapp, W and Hatlen, P (2010) 'The Expanded Core Curriculum: Where we have been, where we are going and how we can get there.' Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 104 (6), pp338-348.