Android gets a built-in Braille keyboard

Android has received a wealth of accessibility features over the last couple of years, but one that has been left to third-party developers is a way for blind users to type using braille. That changes today with Android’s new built-in braille keyboard, which should soon be available as an option on all phones running version 5 and up of the OS.

Braille is a complex topic in the accessibility community, as in many ways it has been supplanted by voice recognition, screen readers and other tools. But many people are already familiar with it and use it regularly — and after all, one can’t always chat out loud.

Third-party braille keyboards are available, but some cost money or are no longer in development. And because the keyboard essentially has access to everything you type, there are security considerations as well. So it’s best for the keyboard you use to be an official one from a reputable company. Google will have to do!

(Apple, it must be said, has had a braille keyboard like this one for years that plugs into its OS’s other accessibility tools. It can be activated using the instructions here.)

The new keyboard, the company writes in a blog post, was created as a collaboration with various users and developers of braille software, and should be familiar to anyone who’s used something like it in the past.

The user holds the phone in landscape mode, with the screen facing away from them, and taps the regions corresponding to each of the six dots that form letters in the braille alphabet. It works with Android’s TalkBack function, which reads off words the user types or selects, so like any other writing method errors can be quickly detected and corrected. There are also some built-in gestures for quickly deleting letters and words or sending the text to the recipient or selected field.

Instructions for activating the braille keyboard are here. Right now it’s only available in English, but more languages will likely be added in the near future.