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Welcome to 288.. 2

This Page Intentionally Left Blank. 3

The Aircove Go Router From ExpressVPN… 6

Zamzar Is a Handy File Conversion Site.. 11

TP-Link Router Accessibility. 11

The iOS Files App, and Scanning Documents. 13

Cricket on the Radio.. 13

ID Verification.. 15

How Is Braille in iOS These Days?.. 16

Be Very Careful With iPhone Stolen Device Protection.. 16

Airline Travel, and People Asking Questions About Our Blindness. 17

Matthew Horspool Discusses All Things Braille.. 19

Closing and Contact Info.. 46




Welcome to 288


Voiceover: From Wellington, New Zealand, to the world, it’s Living Blindfully – living your best life with blindness or low vision. Here is your host, Jonathan Mosen.


If you’re heading to the US blindness conventions or spending any time in hotels, you might want to check out the Aircove Go Router from ExpressVPN, and I’ll speak with Matthew Horspool, Code Officer for the International Council on English Braille and General Manager of the Braillists Foundation.

It’s the 288th episode of this podcast.

[dude sound effect]

Ah, Boris, Boris. We haven’t heard from you for a while. And you’ve just had your 60th birthday as well, so it’s appropriate to wish you happy birthday. It is okay to party now, Boris. If you want to have a massive party for your 60th, you are unlikely to get into any major controversy. Although, I guess it depends on what goes on at the party, right?

I wonder what it feels like to be sitting on the sidelines of this snap election. Is he thinking, I wish that was me out there. I’d have been able to get another majority. Or is he thinking, I’m glad I’m out of that. I’m chilling. I have sufficient capacity to party all the time now without the media getting all upset about my parties. I wonder what he’s thinking.

However, I do not need to wonder about whether there is a corresponding North American area code for this episode, because there is not. There’s no area code 288. I think it might be one of those area codes that they’re saving for an as-yet-unknown purpose. So we’ll hang in there, and maybe if we’re publishing this podcast long enough, a day will come when the area code system will catch up with all these episodes for which there is no area code assigned.

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This Page Intentionally Left Blank

I want to begin by passing on a bit of personal news and tell you about some changing circumstances for me. This is something that some people who’ve been in executive positions can do, but I realize it’s not something that many in our community can do. So I do appreciate and acknowledge the privileged position that I find myself in.

One of the most frequent questions I get asked when people meet me and we sit down for a conversation is, how do you get all your work done? And people go on about my work ethic and how I must keep a pretty grueling schedule. And that is very true.

I think the worst time in my career for this was very early on, when I was just so driven.

I got offered a job doing a breakfast show. That’s what we call it here. But in America, they call it a morning drive show.

The trouble was that I got offered that much-coveted commercial radio position while I was still at university. I was 2/3 through my degree, and I didn’t want to stop getting my degree because I figured if I drop out now 2/3 through, I’m probably not going to go back and finish it, and I didn’t want that to happen.

So I kept going. I did my breakfast show, and I deliberately took papers that were later in the day. I think my first one was at 10, and I’d come off the air at 9, and I’d take a cab into the university.

And I’d do lectures, and I’d also pick lectures that went late. So some nights, my lectures would finish at 6. Amanda and I were living, at that stage, a long way from the university, all the way in South Auckland, so it was quite a lengthy train ride. So my lecture would finish at 6, I’d walk to the train station, wait for my train, get on it. It was about a 30-ish minute ride, I think.

I did fall asleep a few times on that train ride. One time, I fell asleep so heavily that I completely overshot the station, And the train had pulled into a siding, you know, because it had finished for the night. I woke up eventually and found myself all alone on the train in the railway siding, somewhere I’d never been before.

And then, I’d have a lot of essays to write and things like that, and a show to plan for the morning. Because the show that I was doing then was a current affairs one. So I would interview the newsmakers of the day, and my producer would have to brief me on who I was talking to, give me some talking points. It was much more difficult then to get full briefings because this was before the internet. So I couldn’t just log on and look at newspapers or media releases and things. So it was intense.

And sometimes, I’d get to bed at about [12:30] or 1 in the morning, and I’d be up at [3:45] to catch a [4:30] cab into the studio so I could be ready for a 6 AM start.

That is a pretty grueling schedule. But when you’re young, and ambitious, and full of energy, and the children haven’t arrived yet and all those things, you can get away with that, at least for a wee while.

And I like to keep busy. There are so many things I want to do in life. [laughs] And I know that life is short, so I have kept really busy. I’ve tried to pack a lot in.

So 5 years ago, I landed a CEO job. I did have that on my bucket list. I did want to run a large national organization. And over the last 5 years, I’ve been the chief executive of Workbridge, which provides a wide range of services to a very diverse mix of customers.

5 years is a long time to always be switched on. When you’re a chief executive, you’re never completely off work. You’re always available for some sort of crisis.

And of course, if somebody had told me that I would be navigating an organization through a global pandemic, maybe I’d have chickened out. I’m not sure. I like to think I wouldn’t have chickened out.

But that was very challenging in terms of just making sure that everybody was okay, the financial side of that, the disruption. There’s been a lot that has gone on over a 5-year period.

So while I’ve been there for 5 years, which is a good period for a chief executive, it feels like a lot longer because of all that has gone on. There’s been a lot of transformation and a lot of crisis in terms of the pandemic, and it’s time for something else for me. And I’m not even sure what that something else is.

And you know, actually, the easiest thing in the world is to hang on in a job like that. You get comfortable, the money keeps coming in. But I think you die a little inside if you do that. Turns out there’s a buzzword for this, like there’s a buzzword for everything.

After I made the decision and after I left last week, I was listening to a podcast, which I love. I listen to it every week. It’s called Think Fast, Talk Smart. And because it’s such a good podcast, we should just quickly overlook the grammatical dodginess of that. They had an episode on this very thing that they call Self-disruption, that sometimes, you have to shake yourself out of your comfort zone to continue to grow, and learn, and do something new, and keep in a good, healthy state.

My mom died a couple of months ago. You will know this if you’ve been listening to this podcast of late. And that causes you to reflect as well.

I’ve now lost both parents. And a death in the family of that kind makes you stop and think about what’s important, and how finite life is. We don’t have unlimited time here.

So last Friday was my last day. I was going to mention it in the previous episode, but I didn’t because I wanted to be absolutely sure that all the stakeholders who should know before the general public did know. And now, that’s well and truly done.

So this week, I’ve been a person of considerable leisure. I’ve always made a point of taking about 4 weeks off, as you know, if you’re a regular listener to the show, during our summer break which falls over Christmas. I’m pretty disciplined about recharging, and that has helped to keep me going.

But this is the first time in a very very long time that I’m just doing what I like at the moment. And obviously, what I like is this podcast. I do have some obligations, of course, to the people who very kindly contribute to the podcast. And the fact that the podcast is going so well is one thing that has helped me to make this decision.

But where the privileged position bit comes in is that because I have worked so long and hard and in a range of prominent jobs, I don’t actually need to work anymore in order to live, which is not a position that many people find themselves in, particularly these days with the cost of living being what it is.

Thanks, NVIDIA, [laughs] among other things. The shares are going great. But we’ve saved, we’ve invested.

Bonnie is still working, of course, and she’s a very social person. She’s much more social than I am, actually. She’s just a social butterfly. And she loves the interaction in the office and that kind of thing, so we will be okay.

I’m not quite sure what comes next for me, other than I’m being disciplined about taking at least a couple of weeks off.

Then, I’m heading to the National Federation of the Blind’s convention. I’ll be getting lots of interviews there, and catching up with people. I find that an incredibly replenishing, rejuvenating experience.

And then, I’ll probably start thinking about what comes next. And the nice thing is, I’ve got lots of options. When the word got out that I had left, I already got approached by a couple of talent scouts, [laughs] which was really flattering, I suppose. It’s nice to feel loved. And I will just have to decide, do I want to do this and maybe a couple of other podcasts full-time, supplemented by being on some boards here in New Zealand? I am at an age where I would entertain some sort of offshore position, if the right offshore position came along. And Bonnie’s up for that, too. She’s happy to travel.

We’re very fortunate in that a decision doesn’t have to be made anytime soon, and it may never be made. I might just drift into whatever takes my fancy at any given time. It’s a great place to be.

And the nice thing is that I’m going to make much greater use, at least in the short term, of my Netflix, Disney Plus, and Amazon Prime subscriptions and watch a few more movies with Bonnie, and hold hands on the balcony when the weather improves. And, you know, I can be a digital nomad and head off to spend some time with my gorgeous granddaughter, and just see what happens.

I gave a much shorter explanation of all of this on social media, and one or two people reacted with congratulations on your retirement. I don’t think so. I can assure you this is no retirement. This is an intermission of Undetermined Length.

Caitlin Smith. You might have heard her if you listened to the We Are With You concert for Ukraine a couple of years ago. She’s a brilliant, brilliant New Zealand artist, and she’s got some albums. I think they might be in the various streaming places. But she’s great, and she totally got it.

She sent this response on Facebook, and I loved it. You know how you can react with love. This is just perfect.

She said, “I am so excited for you. You have officially been set free to do only the things that make your heart sing.”What a wonderful comment to have received.

So I know that this podcast reaches a massive audience, some of whom sit in the background thinking, “What is Mosen going to say this week?” And some of you work for some pretty major corporations, blindness organizations, and all over the place.

So if you want to have me on the inside, make me an offer. But if no one does, that’s all right. It’s all going to work out.

And my final remarks in this segment will be for my former colleagues at Workbridge. They are a great group of people, for whom government funding is not as adequate as it ought to be.

And a job, as we all know, is so important, particularly if you’ve not got to the point where I have, where you’re now completely economically independent, regardless of what happens next.

When you meet somebody, the question so often asked is, what do you do for a living? And far too many disabled people don’t have an affirmative answer to that question.

So Workbridge is needed, and the work that it does is so important, not just to provide assistance so that people can gain employment, but also to change some of those stubborn, difficult, attitudinal barriers. And it’s been a huge privilege to lead that organization through significant transformation of all kinds – structural, digital, attitudinal, and cultural.

So we’ll see what happens next. It’s quite exciting!


The Aircove Go Router From ExpressVPN

I wanted to give a brief mention of a gadget that I have just procured.

And it’s important that I mention it now because you might want to grab this from Amazon or wherever else it’s being sold, if you are heading to the blindness conventions in the United States – NFB in Orlando, and ACB in Jacksonville. Look at the blind population of Florida growing exponentially, albeit temporarily.

This gadget is called the ExpressVPN Aircove Go router. And by the way, ExpressVPN is all one-word. There is no space between Express and VPN.

I’ll be taking mine to the NFB convention, and I’ll have additional peace of mind and functionality because of it.

Before I talk about this specific contraption, Let me talk about VPNs in general, for those who don’t know what they do. Maybe you’ve heard of them, but you’re not really clear why you would use one.

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It’s a technology that creates a secure and encrypted connection over a less secure network, such as the Internet.

When you use a VPN, you first connect to a VPN server. Now, this server can be located anywhere in the world. All the data that travels between your device and the VPN server is encrypted. That’s a good thing because it means that even if someone intercepts your data, they won’t be able to read it.

When you connect to a VPN, the VPN server will assign you a new IP address (That’s an Internet Protocol address.), and this makes it look like your Internet traffic is coming from the VPN server’s location, not your actual location.

You might be thinking, “This is a really geeky thing. Why would I, a regular computer or smartphone user, want to bother with this?” Well, let me give you a few scenarios that may interest you.

The first one is privacy and anonymity. You can hide your IP address by masking your real one, and that means that the VPN helps you stay anonymous online. Websites and online services won’t be able to see your real location or track your activities back to you. That means that you can prevent tracking. Advertisers, hackers, and even your own internet service provider can’t easily track your online activities.

The next big one, and it’s the reason why I’ve got this ExpressVPN Aircove Go router in time for the NFB trip, is public Wi-Fi protection.

When you use public Wi-Fi at places like cafes, airports, and hotels, your data is vulnerable to hackers. A VPN encrypts your data, and that makes it much harder for anyone to steal your personal information.

I actually got a really horrible computer virus some years ago from a public wi-fi network in Singapore, of all places, while I was marveling at how much faster the internet was there compared to new zealand back then. I was getting a pretty horrible virus that was quite difficult to get rid of.

This is especially important for businesses. A VPN can ensure that sensitive data like financial information or business communications is transmitted securely.

If you’ve been following my stuff for a while, you may remember that when I was running my own company, Mosen Consulting, I wrote a book called Imagine There’s No Countries, where we talked about VPNs in that context because VPNs can get past access restrictions or geo-blocking.

Some websites and online services are only available in certain countries. For example, streaming services like Netflix, the BBC iPlayer, or Hulu have content libraries that vary by country. And in the case of the BBC iPlayer, you can’t access that if you’re outside the UK. A VPN lets you connect to servers in different countries, giving you access to content that might be blocked in your region.

Now, I’m conscious that we have listeners in 113 countries, so it’s also worth me pointing out while I’m on this particular thread that in some countries, the government blocks access to certain websites and services. A VPN can help you bypass these restrictions and access the open internet.

You can also do safe torrenting over a VPN if that’s your jam. If you download files using peer-to-peer technology, your IP address is visible to everyone in the network. But a VPN hides your real IP address, protecting your identity.

And of course, separate from this discussion but worth mentioning for completeness is that many businesses use VPNs to allow employees to securely connect to the company network from anywhere in the world. That’s critical for remote work, ensuring that sensitive company data remains protected.

You can get VPN apps. There are commercial VPN services out there, and there are quite a few of them. I’ve used a lot of them over the years.

But the one I find most reliable, accessible, fast, and it just works is ExpressVPN. I have the ExpressVPN app on my Windows computer. And while it’s a little bit quirky, it is actually usable with a screen reader when you understand the quirks. And perhaps, if there’s interest, I will demonstrate the ExpressVPN app for both Windows and iOS in a future episode.

But you pay a subscription to ExpressVPN or a similar service, and you can load the clients up and choose which part of the world you want to connect to. If I’m in a Wi-Fi hotspot in New Zealand, for example, and that wireless hotspot has no encryption, I would just connect to a local New Zealand VPN. If I want to hear certain content from certain regions, I will connect to a VPN in that particular part of the world. It’s pretty good, and ExpressVPN has given me excellent service.

Now, ExpressVPN are in the router business, and they have a range of routers under the product name Aircove. I bought the little Aircove Go, and I’m delighted with it. It is a small router with ExpressVPN technology built right in.

When you get it and you unbox it, you find this very portable Wi-Fi router. It’s also got a couple of Ethernet ports, so you can plug technology in with wired Ethernet if you want to. It has a USB-C port, so you can plug any power adapter or power bank, whatever you need to, into that.

But it also comes with its own power adapter. And in a very nice touch, it comes with power plugs for pretty much anywhere in the world. You just add the power adapter that you want for the location you’re visiting, twist it on, and it locks in securely. So I’ve got one for New Zealand, and I’ve been plugging it in here to set it up. But I also can untwist that New Zealand power adapter and add the US one for when I visit the NFB convention.

Sometimes, when you go to a hotel, you’ll find that there is wired ethernet. The router can connect to that. And then, rather than connecting directly to the hotel internet, your laptop and your smartphone will connect to the ExpressVPN router. ExpressVPN can then connect to the closest VPN server that it has. I imagine there will be one in florida or something close by. So you’re not risking sending unencrypted traffic all over the place on a public wi-fi network, and all your devices are secure.

Unfortunately these days, not every hotel has wired ethernet. And if you find yourself in that kind of situation, then your ExpressVPN Aircove router can connect to the hotel’s Wi-Fi, and then you connect to the router and you’ve got an encrypted connection. If you do that, there’s probably going to be a bit of latency and a bit of a speed hit because it’s essentially rebroadcasting the Wi-Fi. So it’s certainly not going to function as well as it would if you connected to wired Ethernet.

Now, you may have a very reasonable question at this point, and that is, why don’t I just put the ExpressVPN app on all of my devices if there’s a version for Windows, and there’s a version for Mac, and there’s a version for your iPhone, and a version for Android? Why don’t I just put that on my respective devices and log into the VPN with that? Why do I need to buy an extra router? That’s a very good question, and I’ll give you a few scenarios, some of them specific to us as a community.

One is that sometimes, hotels charge you for premium access. And if you connect more than one device, sometimes, they’ll charge you more than once. The Aircove Go allows you to get past that kind of extortion. In my view, if they’re not charging for television and some of the other amenities in the guest room, they shouldn’t be charging for internet. But sometimes, it still happens.

So you log on using the captive portal. That’s where you have to enter your room number and your last name usually, and maybe a code with your Aircove Go router. And when you’ve done that, and you then connect all your other devices to the Aircove Go router, you’re not having to give your credentials every time you use all your devices. So you only go through that process once. You connect all your devices to your Aircove Go router, rather than directly to the hotel network, and your internet just works because your router is already connected and authorized.

And that brings me on to my second important use case here. There are some devices that can’t authenticate with a captive portal like the ones that you see in a hotel. For example, if you’re using a Victor Reader Stream, or a Mantis, or an Apple TV for that matter, all these devices that don’t have web browsers built in but do have internet capability, then if you authorize your router by using a web browser on one of your devices that does have one, you’re then able to connect all those other devices that don’t have a browser to this router, and you’ve got internet access. For example, a lot of people use the built-in function in the Mantis to access NFB Newsline to read their newspapers every morning. You can’t do that in a hotel that has a captive Wi-Fi portal because there’s no way to authenticate with the Mantis. This allows you to do all of that.

So for many blind people, getting one of these routers, (It doesn’t have to be this. there are similar products out there.) makes a lot of sense, and will make your life simpler.

The easiest way to get this set up initially is to plug it into the wall, make sure it’s all powered on, and then connect via wired Ethernet, if that’s an option for you. You’ll then be able to go to That domain only works when you are connected to an ExpressVPN router. When you do that, you’ll be able to log in, give it your ExpressVPN credentials. You do get 30 days free, if you’re not an ExpressVPN user already. You can set up the Wi-Fi network, give it your own unique SSID (that’s the name that’s given to the network), and set the encryption key.

If you don’t have access to wired Ethernet, it’s a little bit more tricky for a blind person. You can set it up over Wi-Fi. But to do that, you have to know the name of the router and the default encryption key that comes with your particular router. That is written on the bottom of the router. So if you can’t connect via wired Ethernet, you are going to need a sighted person to tell you what that is. It might be something that Aira or Be My Eyes can do for you.

Once you’ve got it, you can log in over wi-fi, change your SSID and encryption key, and then you won’t have to worry about that again.

It also supports dynamic DNS.

It’s a pretty fully-featured router, and the user interface to configure it at this stage with what I’ve done seems very accessible.

The router has little foldable antennae that you can extend for reach. It has 2.4 and 5 gigahertz, and it goes all the way up to Wi-Fi 6. And yes. If you’d like to, you can separate the 2.4 gigahertz from the 5 gigahertz and create two separate networks.

You can also set up different groups. So you could have a group where traffic is going through the VPN, and another group where it is not. And you can assign each device to a particular group so it gets a specific kind of internet connection.

So this is worth checking out, the ExpressVPN Aircove Go router.

And even if you don’t want the router, you may want to check the ExpressVPN service out on your smartphone or your computer. If you would like to do that, then you can use my affiliate link, and there are 2 good reasons for that. One is that I get 30 days free, so it’s a way of supporting Living Blindfully. And the second and most important reason is that you get 30 days free as well, so you can try it without any kind of obligation.

If you’d like to check this out, you can go to That’s Papa November.

And if you want to check out the Aircove range, there’s a larger Aircove router as well. If you don’t want a router for travel, then check them out on Amazon or on the ExpressVPN site at

But if you are interested in giving ExpressVPN a try and you want to help out the podcast and get 30 days free, then remember that link:

One way you might want to get access to that sticker on the bottom of the router is, of course, to use Aira. Oh, what a gorgeous segue this is.

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Zamzar Is a Handy File Conversion Site

Walt Smith says:

“A quick reference to an excellent file conversion site.

I know that there are various apps available to perform conversion of most kinds of files from one format to another. For example, .flac to .mp3, .pdf to .txt, and most of the various eBook formats to a format of the user’s choice.

I recently started using an online file conversion site that appears to handle all file formats, and that performs conversions in an extremely effective and efficient manner. The site is” (that’s

“And while it will do conversions without the necessity to signing up for the service, I choose to pay $60.75 for a 1-year account, which is a much better deal than their $18 per month plan. Since I’ve accumulated a large number of files over the years that I’d like to convert to a small number of standardized formats, I figured that I could accomplish this in a year, and then cancel the account.

I don’t know if there are any limitations placed on individuals from various countries resulting from legal issues.

In addition to basic conversion and download functions, Zamzar also provides their paid subscribers with an online library of the converted files so that if the need arises, the files continue to be available. They claim some pretty sound privacy guarantees. And all in all, I think it’s a site well worth knowing about.”

TP-Link Router Accessibility

We’re talking TP-Link routers now. Christopher Wright says:

“Hi, Jonathan,

I updated the firmware on my Archer AXE” (or do you just say Ax?) “75 Wi-Fi router, and discovered the interface has become even less accessible. I had to switch to Firefox to properly interact with UI elements that used to be displayed as links, but now appear to be clickable text elements. The existing accessibility issues that prevent you from knowing if options are enabled or disabled are still present.

All this could be fixed by upgrading the interface to use standard HTML links and checkboxes.

I’m trying to find the best way to contact TP-Link with these accessibility concerns, but it appears their ticketing system isn’t very accessible either,” Oh, how ironic! “as I can’t select categories from the boxes on the form.

I wonder if we can come together as a community and send the message that accessibility is important and we won’t settle for subpar performance, just like we did with Sonos.

This is yet another reminder that accessibility isn’t guaranteed, and we can be locked out of the devices we purchase at any time.

At least in the case of Sonos, those of us in the United States might be able to rely on the ADA if it got bad enough. Unfortunately, TP-Link is based in China, so the ADA has no power there.

Then again, I question how much good it does in the grand scheme of things. It’s over 30 years old, yet people constantly use loopholes to avoid dealing with it and the associated lawsuits that are supposed to happen if they don’t comply.”

I’m happy to be corrected by a lawyer, Christopher. But I think if TP-Link is selling a product in the US, then they have to comply with the laws of that country in terms of the products that they produce. It could be safety standards, any number of things, frequencies, all sorts of things.

And the Americans with Disabilities Act should be no different. If they’re selling it in the United States, and you can make an argument that because of these accessibility problems, the router violates the ADA, then it doesn’t matter what the originating country is. They’ll have a section there dedicated to regulatory compliance for all the market in which they choose to participate. And this is just another price of participating in said market.

TP-Link are a repeat offender. They’ve come up here before. We’ve had people very upset about the quality of TP-Link stuff.

So if you want to have a go at moving this forward, what I’d suggest is that you find a way of writing to them, maybe get on a 5-minute Aira call or whatever it takes, and get some assistance to navigate to the point in their support system where you can open a ticket, and really clearly state what it is that you used to be able to do, what you can’t do now, and why. And with your technical knowledge, I know that you’ll be able to put that together. The trick is to state it in a non-confrontational but factual and assertive way, and make the point that in your opinion, because you have been inconvenienced in this way, you’ve been discriminated against as a blind person. And therefore, TP-Link has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, that you want this to be escalated to somebody who’s able to fix it in the engineering team, and that you expect a prompt response, and see what happens next. And if you get any response, do let us know.

The iOS Files App, and Scanning Documents

Let’s return to the subject of scanning email securely.

Ian Harrison is back in touch from Hull, and he says:

“Hi, Jonathan,

I have started to use the scan function available in the Files app on my iPhone. I find its OCR to be plenty accurate, and you can scan multiple pages into one PDF.

I’m going to assume that this is all done on the phone. And even if not, I tend to trust Apple’s attitude to personal security.”

Cricket on the Radio

Caller: Good day, Jonathan! This is Kenneth.

I got totally blind at age 14, in 1982. When that happened, I started listening to cricket on the radio. And I used to enjoy it a lot because of the narration, and all the conversation, and so on.

As time went on, we had less cricket on the radio and more cricket on television. and I lost the interest of listening cricket because listening cricket on television was very boring.

Shouldn’t we advocate for cricket back on the radio with that type of narration, with people like Henry Bluefell, and Andrew Mason, and probably there are guys from New Zealand or from India that I could remember. Some of the folks that give you very very good narration. So if you could find some ways to get cricket back on the radio, that level of narration and regularity, it meant a lot to me and my enjoyment of cricket, and maybe so many other sports.

Probably, that was the beginning of description. And probably, cricket was the leader during that period to where we are today.

Jonathan: Oh, I couldn’t agree with you more, Kenneth.

There are still pockets of cricket on the radio to be found. The great public broadcasters like the ABC in Australia and the BBC in the UK have some great cricket coverage still.

And this is one of the main reasons why I persist with the geo-blocking circumvention because I really do want to hear the BBC’s cricket commentary, which is usually very good, with the exception of the 2019 World Cup, but we won’t go there.

Cricket on the radio here in New Zealand is not as abundant as it used to be. We have a network, SENZ, which does some cricket on the radio. I don’t think it does a particularly good job a lot of the time. But sometimes, it does. Sometimes, I think they’re just sitting in a studio and commentating with the TV effects mic, and you can tell. But sometimes, they do actually go and cover test matches okay.

But we’ve lost all the domestic cricket on the radio in New Zealand. No 1-day internationals, no 2020 games, none of the longer form of the game, 4-day cricket for domestic championships. We don’t get any of that on the radio at all. And you’re right, it is on TV.

And my spotty nephew Anthony, who’s also blind and I have a fundamental disagreement about this, because I just don’t enjoy listening to cricket on the TV at all. I like the description of the deliveries. I like the banter that goes on between deliveries. And I find cricket on TV very boring. And obviously, you know when there’s a wicket and you know when someone’s hit a boundary or whatever. But it is absolutely not the same.

And I would actually gladly pay for a subscription product that gave me audio commentary of cricket from around the world in a single accessible app. I wish the ICC would get onto that. But of course, they’re making megabucks out of the rights.

I know this will come as a huge surprise to people, but I’ve actually been doing some advocacy on this. [laughs]

Earlier in the year, I got invited to attend the Wanderers Breakfast at the Basin Reserve here in Wellington, before the New Zealand-Australia cricket test that took place at the Basin. And the chief executives of New Zealand cricket and Australia cricket were in attendance. They had a breakfast, and some talking going on, and then they opened up the floor.

So I jumped up there and I said, oi, oi, I said to the chief executive of New Zealand Cricket, what’s happened to cricket on the radio in this country is outrageous. It’s become much less accessible to blind people. And like a lot of accessibility issues, when we experience a degradation in accessibility, others suffer as well. And I pointed out how important cricket is to the culture of New Zealand at summertime. And for generations, people have been out there painting the roof or lying around at the beach, recharging or whatever with cricket on the radio. And now, you can only do that in limited circumstances. And I said to the guy from New Zealand cricket, you’ve really got to lift your game here. You’ve got to find a way to get radio coverage of cricket back to where it was.

And to my great delight, everybody applauded, which was nice.

Whether it will make a difference or not, I doubt. But at least, I said my piece.

But I’m with you, Kenneth. I’m not sure what we do about it, but I wish we could fix it. I do wish we could.

ID Verification

Let’s return to the important question of verifying your identity online. And we’ve been looking at this through a US lens, but I’d be interested to hear from others around the world about how this is done and how easily this is done.

But Stefanie’s been in touch, and she says:

“This is a follow-up to a message I sent about signing up and verifying my identity for a Social Security account online.

If I remember correctly, what I had to do was answer multiple choice questions about my identity, such as which of the following is an address where you have lived.

I am aware that this isn’t necessarily how accounts are created now. Now, they are created with, or

I did later create a account and had no trouble. And in the process of writing this email when I went to check on processes for logging in, I found out that Social Security is transitioning everyone to logging in with After noticing this, I went back and found my information for that account and linked them, so I can log in with those credentials.

All this to say that I am sorry about Randy’s experience with But on the bright side, I can recommend as an online identity verification system, since I didn’t have any of the issues with which he dealt.”

Alright. So Stefanie gets 100 points for not ending a sentence with a preposition. It gives you hope for the human race.

And she also wrote another message on this and says:

“I just did more research, and it looks like the IRS now requires an account. They are aware that the process is difficult, if not impossible for screen reader users, and say to get around this, the person needs to make a video call to talk to an assistant. They even have an accessibility compatibility guide.” which is at quite a long link, so I’ll try and remember to pop that in the show notes.

She says:

“While these are great and right now, essential tools, since there’s nothing else available, the fact that they are not allowing people to sign in with is outrageous, since the account creation process was something I could complete on my end without assistance.”

Thank you, Stefanie!

It would be really interesting to hear some more about ID verification, and what the consumer organizations in the United States are doing about this, whether it’s a problem. It may well be something that comes up in resolutions at the conventions this year.

If you are in the United States, and you’re going to convention this year and you’re finding this of concern, you may wish to avail yourself of the resolutions process. They are important statements, and they can direct a consumer organization about where to turn their attention. And this does sound like a really serious matter. So I look forward to more comments on this.

How Is Braille in iOS These Days?

Caller: Hey, Mr. Jonathan Mosen and fellow Living Blindfully listeners! My name is Rickson Smith.

Question I have is this. Over the past few years, there have been several problems with Braille and how it works with Braille displays from iOS. I’m looking to use the Kindle app to read a children’s book to a bunch of kids at an elementary school, in the area that I happen to be living in here in Springfield, Illinois. But I need to know if is it going to be a smooth reading experience, or am I going to be wanting to have my Braille display be a standalone and do it that way?

Jonathan: As far as I’m aware, and I’m knocking on the wood vociferously because we’re in another iOS beta cycle now, Braille in iOS, and Kindle, and the continuous panning thing is working okay.

But if I had a choice, if I’ve got a Braille display like a Brailliant, or a Mantis, or some other product that has a book reader or an editor built into it, I will always choose to load that file, if possible, into that. The reason for that is it just takes one device out of the mix. Therefore, it takes a whole bunch of variables out of the mix like Bluetooth pairing going strange, or any number of things, even if iOS is behaving. So if you can get something on a local device, I choose that every time.

Good luck with the elementary kids, by the way. I used to love that.

Every so often, my kids would come home and they’d say, We’re doing blind people at school this week, and we’re taking you as an exhibit. [laughs] And you have to come and read a story to the kids.

I used to love doing that. And hopefully, I’ll be able to do it again soon when Florence is at school, my grandchild.

Be Very Careful With iPhone Stolen Device Protection

Paul Hopewell is dealing with a bit of a schmuzzle. He says:

“Hello, Jonathan,

I wonder if you or any of your subscribers know how to fix the below problem.

I have an iPhone SE 2020 running iOS 17.5.1 and the latest versions of every installed app, which I can use as a backup phone if my iPhone 15 should ever fail.

Being keen on security, I turned Stolen Device Protection on for the iPhone SE. During which, require security delay was accidentally set to always, rather than when away from familiar locations.

Be warned. Be very careful not to do this.

Shortly thereafter, Touch ID failed to recognize my fingerprint, which happens from time to time. I cleaned the screen and washed my fingers to no effect.

Normally, I used to fix it by adding a new fingerprint, but stolen device protection required me to authorise this by Touch ID. I then tried to turn off Stolen Device Protection, which also required me to authorize by Touch ID. I then tried resetting all settings, which also required authorization by Touch ID.

In none of the above cases could I enter my passcode as an alternative to Touch ID, so it looks like my only option is to reset the phone, erasing all data and settings, which might also require Touch ID to authorize. I’m reluctant to try this until I am sure that there are no easier alternatives.

Note that I do not have any backups of the phone before turning on Stolen Device Protection.

Does anyone have any suggestions? Stolen Device Protection certainly does its job.”

Gosh, Paul! That does sound like a bit of a dilemma.

I’m rather glad that I have Face ID, which I find quite a bit more reliable than Touch ID.

But that doesn’t help you in your situation. I guess it is working as advertised.

How you get out of this is a really interesting question because in my reading about Stolen Device Protection, it sounds like, for very obvious reasons, Erase Content and Settings is one of those features that Stolen Device Protection protects. So if you’ve got a faulty touch ID sensor and it’s no longer reading your fingerprint that you created, I don’t know. You might have to talk to Apple about this. It could be a very tricky business. I would give them a call and see how you get on.

When you do eventually get this resolved, and I hope you do, then do let us know how you resolved it.

Airline Travel, and People Asking Questions About Our Blindness

This contribution comes from Mark Fisher, who says:

“Hi, Jonathan,

Long-time listener, first-time writer.”


Aww! That takes me back to my Talkback radio, that sort of thing.

He continues:

“Although, I must say, sometimes, a little spasmodically due to time constraints.

I listened with interest on your June 9 episode about airline travel, especially because I’m flying soon to Europe for a river cruise holiday, having recently retired.

Catherine’s comments regarding people asking questions was of interest to me.

I’m for asking questions because I find it gives us the chance to educate and inform, and to also receive the same in return.

It’s not right for everyone, and we’re all individuals so I fully understand those who don’t feel that way. And as Catherine indicated, there are a number of ways to get this message across.

Whilst people still receive general training to provide this assistance at airports, we all know that everyone’s circumstances are different. So I’m happy to explain the what, where, and how.

This can also include that not all people may want to discuss their particular situation. So change the world one person at a time.

It has been an interesting experience using a combination of airline websites, European train websites, the PRM Assist app, and tour providers to request assistance for this trip, even though I am travelling with my sighted wife.

The best experience I’ve ever had was in the only other time I’ve been to Europe in 2018, in Germany. That time, I was escorted from the boarding gate, wife in tow trying to keep up, seated on one of those airport buggies, (No wheelchair for me.), and taken through the terminal as we were transiting to another flight. We were even taken through some secret back entries felt like a rock star. Not what I would always want, but hey. Sometimes, why not?

Anyway, for me, I’m looking forward with interest to the number of wheelchairs and other different experiences I’m about to receive on my travel.

Keep up the excellent work.

Not sure we’ll see NZ in the T20 Super 8s, though.”

Aww! That was a good message until now, Mark. [laughs]

New Zealand was just abysmal in the 2020 World Cup, and we didn’t deserve to get through. We didn’t, and that’s exactly how it should be. There needs to be some serious soul-searching going on.

I hope you have a great trip to Europe.

One of the best meet and assist experiences I had was at Frankfurt Airport, now that you mention your German experience. They were college students that they hired to do the meet and assist. So I had a couple of people assisting me at different times in Frankfurt, and they were great English speakers. Very knowledgeable. I talked to them as we walked about what they were studying, and that kind of thing. It was really good.

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Matthew Horspool Discusses All Things Braille

As you’ll know if you’ve been listening to Living Blindfully of late, the International Council on English Braille recently concluded its quadrennial general assembly. So while Braille topics feature regularly on the show, we’re hearing from a few key players in the world of Braille to highlight the code that delivers full literacy to blind people.

Now, Matthew Horspool wears several hats. He’s now the Code Maintenance Officer of ICEB, and he’s General Manager of the Braillists Foundation. Those two alone will keep us going for a while.

And he’s back on the show. You might remember we spoke with Matthew before ICEB’s General Assembly in 2020, which, like everything at that time, was impacted by COVID.

Welcome, Matthew!

Matthew: Well hello, Jonathan! It’s wonderful to be back on the program.

Jonathan: I’d like to start by talking about your personal journey with Braille, if I may. How early did you learn it? How did you learn it? And what impact has it had on your own life?

Matthew: Well, how I learned it is an interesting question. I’m not sure I can answer that. I was too young to remember it, really.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Matthew: I started learning it when I was about 3, probably. I remember I was in nursery school, and I remember that the first letters that I… Well, I don’t know that the first letters that I learned, but certainly the first letters that they tried to teach me were the letters in my name so that I could identify my coat peg in nursery school.

And I do have some very vague memories of the nursery nurse, as we would call them then. I’m not sure what we call them now. I don’t think we’re allowed to call them nursery nurses now. But the nursery nurse very patiently sitting me down with a Brailler and me not really understanding anything about this at all, but sort of gradually figuring out that it might mean something. And after that, it’s a bit of a blur.

But I can certainly remember by the time I reached the middle to the top end of primary school. I was in the church choir by then, and I was reading hymn books in grade 2. I didn’t need a great deal of help in order to understand some of the contractions. Some of them, I just picked up anyway. There were some that I hadn’t learned, but words like rejoice was quite common around Christmas time, for example. And I just sort of figured out that when I saw RJC by itself, it meant rejoice. And so I figured out a few of contractions by myself. But by about 8 or 9, that was the level that I was operating at.

Jonathan: It’s interesting that religion has had so much impact on Braille, isn’t it? And maybe that goes all the way back to Louis Braille’s faith.

But you do see some contractions which, if you were thinking about it logically, are not widely used when you compare them with other words, but there is an abundance of these contractions. At least, there was in earlier times.

Matthew: Yeah, and there are still some. There are fewer now than there were.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Matthew: We used to have .5 G for God and .5 J for Jesus, 456 U for unto.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Matthew: None of those contractions exist in UEB. There are a few die-hards who’ve created, you know, LibLouis tables that have UEB plus the religious contractions, but they’re not officially recognized anymore.

Jonathan: Special schools, as they used to be called, are an interesting subject because some people say look, we got such a concentrated pocket of resourcing, it set us up for life.

How do you feel about the special school or the school for the blind training that you had as a child?

Matthew: Yeah. I mean I went to a school for the blind. It was a day school. It was slightly unusual in that sense. I don’t really know why Birmingham in particular had day schools for the blind. I think a few other local authorities did for a while, and then they shut them down. But Birmingham’s stuck around.

And so I didn’t really have the full blind school experience because I wasn’t boarding. There was no option to board.

And actually, I really wanted to go to a boarding school. I wanted to go to New College Worcester and unfortunately didn’t get the funding to go. I say, unfortunately, I’m not sure how unfortunate it was in the end, but it felt unfortunate.

But I suppose being at day school, I was able to do things in the evening.

I was quite involved. I said about the church choir. I was quite involved as well with the City of Birmingham Symphony Youth Chorus, which was related to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, which is quite a famous orchestra over in the UK, and possibly internationally as well. So I feel like in some ways, I had the best of both worlds.

The problem was the catchment area for the blind school was still quite large. So I went to school and didn’t have many friends during the day, and went home and had no friends at all during the evening. [laughs] So I feel like socially, I’m not really sure what blind school really did for me. I’m not sure it did anything for me in particular. And one of the things I realized when I got a bit older and needed to think about college was I needed to sort my social life out and sort my social skills out because they were pretty poor.

But academically, I think blind school did me very well. And I think I probably wouldn’t change it because the landscape of mainstream education in the UK is such a patchwork. It’s what we would call a postcode lottery.

Some local authorities are handling it very well. One mainstream school has a resource base, which most of the blind children go to the one mainstream school, which is a mainstream school, but it has all of the resources in it. And then, they have an outreach service to go to the other mainstream schools. Some local authorities do that very well.

Some local authorities do a pretty terrible job of it. And I’m not convinced that Birmingham would have done a particularly good job, had I not have gone to the blind school. So I think in hindsight, it was the best education I could have got. And I certainly wouldn’t change it. But it certainly wasn’t without its problems.

Jonathan: Because every teacher that you had at that formative time was literate in your terms, in blindness terms.

Matthew: Yes, it was literate in Braille, certainly.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Matthew: Some teachers understood blind people more than others. Of course, I think that would be the case regardless, whether it was a blind school or a mainstream school. But yeah, they were all literate in Braille.

If they weren’t literate in Braille, there was an understanding that they would become literate in Braille very quickly. And there was support mechanisms put in place, you know, if somebody was newly qualified, they perhaps wouldn’t know Braille. But they would make sure there was a teaching assistant in the room who did know Braille. So that was all very well done, very well handled.

Jonathan: And coming back to that postcode lottery, this is where you start to get the rationing of Braille, where perhaps only the blindest of children or the children who are perceived as showing the most promise may get Braille because there is such a shortage of qualified teachers of blind children. Is that what goes on in the UK as well?

Matthew: Well, I think it’s a bit more subtle than that. There is a lack of qualified teachers. Yes, that is definitely a reality. We need to have more of them.

The country is also not divided up terribly well.

So the local authority of Coventry, which is where I live now, is quite small. You can travel from one side of Coventry to the other by car in about half an hour. And so that’s just one local authority by itself.

The local authority of Warwickshire, which is next door to Coventry, there’s North Warwickshire and South Warwickshire with Coventry in the middle. And so you could be looking at maybe an hour and a half to 2 hours to travel from one side of Warwickshire to the other. And yet Coventry has 3 qualified teachers of the visually impaired, and Warwickshire also has 3 qualified teachers of the visually impaired. So you’re much more likely to get Braille education in Coventry simply because of the compressed nature of it.

I feel like there needs to be a big program of trying to restore that balance somehow, either by bigger local authorities having more teachers, or possibly more offices that they can work out of.

The other part of this is the travel. Warwickshire, I know you would have a student in the north of Warwickshire who would need Braille, and a student in the south of Warwickshire who would need Braille, and that would be with the same teacher. So the travel time involved would just be huge. So I think it’s not just about the number of teachers, it’s about how those teachers are managed.

Jonathan: There have been varying views over the years about how you teach Braille, or when you teach Braille. And there was an era some years ago, some decades ago now, of sight-saving where the theory was if you didn’t use the little sight that you had, you might lose it. And there were generations of people who weren’t taught Braille as a result. And then, their vision deteriorated, and they really struggled in employment, as parents, and a whole raft of areas of life.

What’s the philosophy these days around who should learn Braille in the UK? Is it a pretty liberal idea that look, if you’ve got a prognosis, even if you can see fairly well now, but it’s clear that your vision is going to deteriorate, you should learn Braille? Or is it still pretty much only people who are almost totally blind are learning Braille?

Matthew: I don’t know entirely, because I’m a bit out of that side of things now. My understanding of it though is again, it’s a bit of a postcode lottery. The local authorities will set their own policies for when Braille can be taught, and some of those policies are pretty dire.

If you can read print at size 36, for example, they might not teach you Braille because you can still read print at size 36, which is pretty terrible.

Some places are better than others. I think, most local authorities would be pretty sympathetic if they thought that your eyesight was going to deteriorate. If they knew, say, if you’ve got Stargardt’s, for example, and it was highly likely that your eyesight was going to deteriorate, they would make an effort to teach you some Braille.

But there’s all sorts of stakeholders in this process. There’s the teacher of the visually impaired, there’s also the school teachers who largely leave it to the judgment of the teacher of the visually impaired. But they get very antsy when, oh well, so-and-so is not progressing very well with their work. And it’s because you’re taking them out to teach them Braille, whereas you could just teach them computer skills and that would sort their problem out. And anyway, they can read print at the moment. So why are we doing this?

And then, there’s the parents. I mean, parents are the worst sometimes because parents don’t want to admit that their child is blind, or visually impaired or whatever you want to call them. If they can see, then they look sighted and therefore, they look normal as far as the parents are concerned.

I used to work at Exhall Grange School, which was a school for the blind and had an enormous outreach base into Warwickshire. And I had a parent come in and see me once and they said, “Well, why are you wanting to teach my son Braille? Because my son has got eyesight. And it feels like if you’re teaching my son Braille, then you’re turning off his eyes and we don’t want to do that.”

And that parent was great because I was able to sit him down and have a conversation. And I said, “Look,” I said, “that’s exactly what we are doing.” I said, “We’re turning his eyes off.” But I said, “Have you ever thought about the fact that when we’ve turned his eyes off, his eyes are resting? And so he could either use his eyes to read, which would be one use. But I mean, by the end of the day, he’s going to be very tired. Or he could save those eyes until he’s finished reading, and then use those eyes to take in the world around him, and help him navigate and other things like that.”

And that was a real eye-opener, no pun intended, for those parents. [laughs] But it needs somebody to sit down and have those conversations. And I was able to have that conversation quite authentically as a blind person.

And I think sometimes, the teachers of the visually impaired either are not able to have that authentic conversation because they’re not blind, or they simply just don’t have the time or the inclination, or they have a parent that says I don’t want my child to learn Braille. And they go well, that’s a relief because I don’t have to travel out to go and see them. [laughs] And it saves them some money.

Jonathan: That is a brilliant example of how blind adults being involved in every aspect of the blindness system is so critical for mentoring, for making quality decisions. It’s really impactful, particularly given that younger people don’t like being othered. And Braille is othering to some degree, isn’t it? And especially when you get to your teenage years and you worry as a teen about standing out for some reason, doing something different from your peers, it can be very difficult.

Matthew: Hmm. And the use of Braille technology has helped enormously here because you could have, yes, okay, a Braille display, which is a slightly unusual piece of technology. But that Braille display could be connected to a laptop, which is a fairly standard piece of technology, or an iPad, or a mobile phone. And you have things like Braille screen input, which you wouldn’t want to do serious academic work on. But if you were doing group work, you know, a bit of group research or something, yeah, you could use Braille screen input on an iPad to type in a Google search or something. And then in that way, you’re not really looking terribly different to your peers in that sense because you’re using the same technology, perhaps in a slightly different way. But I don’t think anybody really cares about that.

Jonathan: Now, if I remember correctly, when you were a spotty youth, you were using the BrailleNote. I seem to remember you when I was there being on the BrailleNote list. Is that right?

Matthew: That’s correct. Yes.

Jonathan: What’s your thinking these days about notetakers and their place, given that they have trouble keeping up, don’t they? They’re proprietary in many instances. The software takes a long time to get revised. Meanwhile, the world has moved on. Are we doing the world a favor by locking people into these notetakers, or are we better teaching with iPads, and PCs, and mainstream technology connected to a Braille display?

Matthew: [sigh] We’re not doing them a favor. We’re not doing the world a favor by locking people in.

That’s not to say that I don’t like notetakers. I have a notetaker.

I’m afraid I don’t use a BrailleNote anymore. I made the transition to the BrailleSense.

But you mentioned the ICEB General Assembly at the start of this interview. I used a BrailleSense 6 throughout the ICEB General Assembly, and I found it extremely useful because it was a Braille-first environment. It could do things extremely quickly. I could load documents in from Dropbox, I could get them in Grade 2, and I could get them in Grade 2 without any clutter. I wouldn’t have to worry about messages from the screen reader or Windows popping up in the way, or all of the stuff that you experience on Braille displays connected to phones or connected to computers.

So I think there’s definitely a place for notetakers. And I really enjoyed going through school with a notetaker because it was distraction-free. I could work in Braille, the Braille that I wrote came up on the Braille display, I could emboss it, and I could make sure that a good embossed copy came out that was formatted the way I wanted it. I really think that was a good way for me to work throughout school.

I think notetakers are missing a trick now because they work in a print-first environment. That really frustrates me. And I really wish the notetaker manufacturers would do something about it, other than give us a second rate Braille editor. [laughs] I just think the old-fashioned keyword on the BrailleNote Classic, and the BrailleNote MPower, and the BrailleNote Apex that was Braille-first was just phenomenal. And I don’t see that there’s as much of an advantage now in working on a notetaker in a print-first environment that constantly is forward-translating and back-translating.

But the real problem is if you’re not careful, if all that you do is teach a blind person to use a notetaker, when that blind person leaves school, the blind person has no computer skills at all.

And in that sense, I was very lucky because I was very interested in computers. And so I enjoyed using my notetaker at school, and I could compartmentalize it. I could say well, I use my notetaker at school. And when I get home, I can turn on my computer and I can use my computer.

And I really enjoyed learning from the old Main Menu archives, and things like that, [laughs] and old tutorials from Brian Hartgen and Dean Martineau, and many familiar faces like that. And I learned a lot from those, just in my own time.

Part of my role now is doing assistive technology training. They tend to give me the Braille jobs. If somebody’s got a Braille display at university and it needs to be set up, and somebody needs some training in how to use it, I’m the one they tend to call on to go and do those jobs.

But I come down expecting to do Braille display training, expecting them to know how to use JAWS and just need a hand connecting up their Braille display. And what you actually find is that they’ve got 4 hours of training and they need a lot more, because the only thing they’ve used in the past is a BrailleNote or a BrailleSense. And they’ve now got to not only learn how to use their Braille display, but they’ve also got to learn how to use JAWS and how Windows works.

So I think we do need to teach that IT literacy, and I think we do need to teach screen readers. And we do need to teach screen readers, possibly in combination with a Braille display.

But I still find it a very distracting environment, if I’m honest. There’s been huge strides made in terms of JAWS, Braille, and things like that. But still, writing in a Word document with a Braille display just does not feel as comfortable to me as writing on a notetaker with a Braille display.

Jonathan: So the Optima might be the sweet spot, do you think, potentially, if it gets off the ground?

Matthew: I would hope so. And I would hope that the Optima would revitalize efforts in making the Windows Braille experience a bit cleaner. I think there’s plenty of work that could be done to clean that experience up. I just don’t think enough effort is being put into making that happen.

Jonathan: Yeah, I agree with you about that. And when Judy and I were having a brief chat a few weeks ago, I pointed out that a lot of the UEB symbols that denote different typefaces, that kind of thing, are just not happening in JAWS at all, and I find that quite concerning.

Matthew: It is very concerning. And there was a time when you could understand why that happened, because there was a time when the logical answer to that problem was well, the screen reader might know when the bold starts, but the screen reader doesn’t know when the bold ends because it might be sent a character at a time, or a word at a time. And back when computers didn’t have a great deal of processing power, I could buy that argument.

I’m afraid I just don’t buy it now. Without getting too technical about it, the way that JAWS interacts with the Word document through the document object model and things like that, there’s no reason why JAWS couldn’t obtain an entire paragraph at a time, and then work through that and say where does the bold start? Where does the bold end? And it could very easily know when it starts and when it ends, and I could do it very easily.

Jonathan: Right. I mean, many people don’t appreciate that when you open a Word document, it’s not even reading the screen anymore. You’re engaging directly with that Word document.

Matthew: Yeah, you are.

Well, and by that logic, you could, in fact, ask the Word document. You could say well, we found some bold. Where does it end, please? And Word could just tell you that information, and JAWS could convey that to the Braille display.

Jonathan: You mentioned that you’d switched. What is it about the BrailleSense that gives it the edge in your view?

Matthew: [laughs] How churlish and pedantic do you want me to be?

Jonathan: [laughs] Go for it.

Matthew: I think Humanware lost its way with the BrailleNote when it became the BrailleNote Touch. It tried to port Keysoft from a Windows environment to an Android environment, and it did a reasonable job of the surface level stuff.

There were things that it fundamentally broke, which it hasn’t fundamentally fixed yet in terms of when I was at the main menu on a BrailleNote and I pressed the letter W, it went straight into the word processor and put me straight on the Keyword menu. On the BrailleNote touch, I have to press W, and then I have to press enter. And I know that seems like a very minor thing. But when you’re having to navigate through an operating system at speed, pressing enter more times than you need to press enter slows you down.

And the BrailleSense doesn’t have that problem. I mean, the BrailleSense is even quicker than the BrailleNote was. I can be at the main menu and I can press W, and I’m straight into a document in one key press. It was things like that.

As I say, the BrailleNote Touch is a print-first environment. So is the BrailleSense, to be fair to it.

I perhaps shouldn’t say too much more about that. That wasn’t really a reason for me switching.

I think the BrailleSense does a better job at feeling like a Braille-first environment. The BrailleNote sort of imposes print-first a lot more, I find.

And it’s just heavy, and bulky, and slow. If you put a BrailleNote Touch and a BrailleSense 6 side by side, a BrailleSense 6 feels a lot more like a notetaker. It’s a lot lighter. It’s a lot snappier.

It still hasn’t kept up. It’s still only on Android 12 versus Android 14 that the mainstream’s on, but that beats the BrailleNote Touch’s Android 8, you know. And it’s really just things like that.

I feel like the word processor on the BrailleSense 6 feels like the word processor on… The U2 or something like that, versus the word processor on the BrailleNote Touch that feels nothing at all like the word processor on the BrailleNote Apex and the BrailleNote MPower. A lot of features like the ink print exclusions and things like that, a lot of those features went missing. And I just feel like it’s not a product that I’m comfortable using anymore.

In Humanware’s defense, I do have a Brailliant BI40X connected to my computer at home. And I do really rate the Humanware Braille display products.

I don’t want this to turn into a Humanware bashing session, you know. [laughs]

I think they did a very good job building the Mantis. I don’t use it because the Mantis doesn’t have a UK keyboard layout, and I’m quite comfortable with my UK keyboard layout, and I quite like my number pad. But you know, the Mantis is a fantastic product. I would have no hesitation in recommending it, and so is the Brailliant. I have a lot of time for the Brailliant products.

Jonathan: I’m a big fan of the Mantis, mainly because it gets around some of the anomalies in iOS that still exist pertaining to translation when you’re entering contracted Braille.

But believe me, you can never be too pedantic, as far as I’m concerned, regarding efficiency. I think efficiency is something that we don’t talk about enough, or value enough. It’s very easily lost, and it’s quite hard gained. So good on you for holding the line on that.

How does Braille now play a part in your daily life? When, for example, would you use speech to get a job done exclusively, just working with your screen reader and your text-to-speech engine of choice? And when would you employ a Braille display to get that job done?

Matthew: It’s funny because I would use speech a lot of the time without really even thinking about it. And then I would use Braille a lot of the time without really even thinking about it.

I think probably when I’m using a computer, I would consider speech to be my primary way of using a computer. I don’t think I could just sit down and scan through my email with a Braille display. I would much rather just have the speech on and let the speech read it to me.

I would not manage quite so well without a Braille display in front of me though, because when I need to reply to an email, I need to check the spelling of somebody’s name. And trying to do that with speech is very hard. I much prefer just having the Braille display in front of me so I can read the spelling of the name. And then when I’m writing in to be able to proofread that message, I find having Braille enormously helpful in terms of allowing me to proofread that document.

So I suppose, on the computer anyway, I see Braille more as a check mechanism, if you like. I would use speech as the primary modality, but would have Braille around to verify spellings, and to verify spacing, and accuracy, and things like that, and paragraphs.

And of course, when I’m delivering presentations, which I do. Less now than perhaps I would have done a few years ago. But still, yes, when I’m delivering presentations, absolutely would use Braille for that.

Where Braille for me comes into its own though is at the cathedral. I talked about singing in the local parish church choir. I now sing in the choir at Coventry Cathedral, which is huge. I’m very proud of that achievement. As far as we know, I’m the only blind person singing in an English cathedral choir. There may be others, but they haven’t come forward. And music directors in cathedrals are about as well-connected as blind people. So they would know. And Coventry is very proud of that.

Actually, Coventry on its website makes a point of saying we’re a diverse choir, and we’re very proud to have a blind person. And I’m very proud that I’ve managed to do that.

But Braille is absolutely essential. There is no way that I would be able to do that without Braille because the amount that has to be learned, the amount that has to be sung. I mean, I’m so glad that I have Braille. I just could not do it without Braille. I couldn’t learn the amount of material. I’m quite good at learning notes. I’m terrible at learning words. And so just to have some prompts to say, this is where I need to go next, and this is what I need to do next. It’s just absolutely invaluable, and I couldn’t do it without it.

Jonathan: How do you get into a choir like that? What’s the process?

Matthew: Get good at singing in an inferior choir. [laughs]

I mean, basically, that was not a very good way of putting it.

But yeah. I mean, I started out singing in church choirs, and then had a bit of a break because my voice broke.

And then when my voice settled down again, yeah, basically started off from there, sung in the parish church choir for a bit, realized that I wasn’t being challenged enough.

I knew somebody who used to sing in the Cathedral Choir and who still knew the director of music there. And so she set up an appointment, and I had a chat.

And he said, “Well, I can’t audition you because you’ll fail the sight singing test.” [laughs] He said, “But come along for a trial period, and we’ll see how you get on.”

And so, that’s what I did. I came along for a trial period, and he seemed to like what I was up to, and I seemed to like what he was up to.

But you need to be good, you know. You’re not going to get a free pass just because you’re blind, right? You need to be good at music. You need to be good at singing. And not just be good at music as in, I hear something and I sing it back. You need to really understand how it all fits together, and things like that.

And you can’t just start off and think, I’m going to be in a cathedral choir today. Certainly not in the UK. You need to have had a lot of experience before you can get to that level, I’d say.

Jonathan: And are you using hard copy Braille for some of that, or is it exclusively refreshable Braille?

Matthew: It’s almost exclusively hard copy, actually.

Jonathan: Right.

Matthew: I have an embosser at home. And everybody around me is exclusively using hard copy print. And so I felt it was important that I fitted in, as much as possible. [laughs] Whether that’s a good way to be, I don’t know. But yeah, it’s almost exclusively hard copy Braille. I emboss what I need, and I save it in big ring binders, you know, because music comes round and around and around. So I save it in folders so that I don’t have to emboss it fresh each time. But yeah, it’s all hard copy.

And I mean partly, that’s to do with fitting in, partly because that’s actually what I’m comfortable with. I’m having to zip through music at quite a pace, you know, particularly in practices. We’ll sing a piece, and I’ll say right, we’re going to go back to this part, and back to this part, and back to this part. And I don’t know. I just find it easier for my fingers to find that, rather than having to worry about typing in things on a keyboard. And perhaps because I’m in a rush, I spelt it wrong, so it didn’t find it. So I’ve got to go and find it again. And I just find hard copy much easier, in that sense.

And also, the expense of it. You’re in a church, and you would hope that nobody would steal something from a church. But from time to time, you know, you might need to leave some Braille somewhere, or leave a piece of equipment somewhere, or what have you. And I don’t know how comfortable I am taking my 4 and a half thousand pound piece of Braille equipment into a church and having to leave it while I go up and take communion. [laughs] What’s going to happen to it when I get back? And it just feels a lot more secure. If my Braille goes missing, it costs a few pence to replace it.

Jonathan: I want to take us back to something you said that caught my attention.

As you know, on this show, we have quite a lot of philosophical discussions. And they’re pretty much always conducted in a respectful way, which I really appreciate.

You made the comment when we were talking about when do you deploy Braille and when do you deploy speech that when you’re reading an email, you’ll have the computer read the email to you. When you want to spell something out, you will read how it’s spelt.

So would you agree that when you are using text-to-speech, the computer’s reading to you? When you’re using Braille, you’re reading to yourself?

Matthew: That is how I feel, as a totally blind person and as a blind person since birth.

I feel like there’s a sort of graduated approach here. If I’m reading Braille, I’m definitely reading to myself.

If a text-to-speech engine is reading something to me, I still perceive it as the text-to-speech engine reading something to me. But it’s a text-to-speech engine, so there’s nothing really being imposed by that. I’ve learned to disconnect the text-to-speech from the emotion, if you like. So I can still hear something from a text-to-speech engine, and put voices to it, and put expression to it, and what have you. So I still feel like there’s an element of me involved in that. But yes, I do feel like a text-to-speech engine is reading it.

That is distinct from an audiobook, where a narrator is putting expression into that. And I really do then feel like somebody is reading to me, and I don’t really feel like I’ve got any control of that.

I don’t know whether it would be any different for somebody who lost their sight later on in life.

There’s an argument that Braille is literacy. And I do believe that for me, Braille is literacy. And I believe that for many blind people, Braille is literacy.

I have a slightly hard time if somebody learned print, and was literate, and then lost their sight, you know, later on in life having learned print. I have a hard time telling them that because they haven’t learned Braille, they’re now illiterate.

Jonathan: There’s a pejorative element about that, even though it may be true, right? I mean, it’s a hard thing to say to someone.

Matthew: Perhaps. [laughs] Perhaps because it’s a hard thing to say to someone, I don’t say it.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Matthew: I don’t know. I do feel slightly uncomfortable about that.

I would feel much more comfortable saying it to somebody who never learned Braille and never learned print. And therefore, I would consider to be illiterate.

Jonathan: Because there’s something unique in the blind community, which is that blind people often talk about reading a book. And when you ask them how did you read it, They will say in audio.

And as far as I’m concerned, if you’re listening to an audiobook, you are not reading it. It’s being read to you.

I’m no more reading an audiobook than my granddaughter is reading a book when I tell her a story, as far as I’m concerned.

And yet, there’s something unique in the blind community that has made reading an audiobook an acceptable turn of phrase, and it just doesn’t make sense to me.

Matthew: I think it makes sense in the context though, that a blind person would watch the television. You wouldn’t make a distinction between a blind person watching the television, and a sighted person watching the television. I think that’s just colloquialism.

Jonathan: But a sighted person never reads an audiobook. I mean, you actually hear in the narrations. Sometimes, words are changed to, if you’re listening to this audiobook. They actually change the author’s language from if you’re reading this book.

It’s only blind people who talk about reading an audiobook. Everybody else talks about listening to one.

And sighted people, obviously, we all talk about watching the television. So is there a difference there?

Matthew: I don’t know. I’ve never really thought about it. [laughs]

I suppose possibly, it comes down to the fact that there is, or was until fairly recently, less available in Braille. And so in some ways, the only way that a blind person was going to access a book was to listen to it, that the audiobooks were in greater supply than Braille books were. And so perhaps, it just emerged as vocabulary over time.

Jonathan: Because what concerns me about this is if we’re not honest about the fact that a computer is reading to us, or a human narrator is reading to us, it kind of lets the system off the hook in terms of making sure that true literacy, the ability to write something down and read back what you’ve written, is available. And if we kind of settle for second best and say okay, yeah, we’ll just say we’re reading when we’re actually not doing the reading ourselves, we might not ever make progress in ensuring that actual full literacy is more abundant in the world.

Matthew: That’s possibly true. I hadn’t really thought about it like that. [laughs]

I think though, there’s other ways in which we can demonstrate the importance of literacy.

I’ve talked about me being in the Cathedral Choir, and I’m very proud of that. I’m also very proud to have Braille on display.

I said about wanting to fit in, and having hard copy instead of electronic Braille, and that’s all true. But still, it’s Braille, and I’m still reading with my fingers. And I feel like that is a tangible demonstration on a weekly basis to a lot of people that Braille is important. And so I feel like spreading the word that way is making a difference, I feel like, if we use Braille.

I also think that the way we talk about Braille. So often, I hear about Braille-related events. And in the promotion for these Braille-related events, I hear things like well, the world thinks that Braille is in decline. And we don’t think so, so we’re going to prove it.

Actually, one of the things that we’ve consciously made a decision to do at the Braillists Foundation, which you might come onto in a bit, is to actually not have any of that rhetoric at all. We’re not going to talk about what the rest of the world thinks about Braille. We’re just going to talk about what we think about Braille. And we’re going to talk about the positives about Braille without really making any reference to how the rest of the world perceives it.

And I feel like actually, if we talk more positively about Braille, and if we use Braille, and if we’re seen to be using Braille, and if we’re seen to be benefiting from Braille, I feel like that would send an equally strong message.

Jonathan: Absolutely.

One of the things that warms my heart a lot is when I get an email from a listener who says when I hear you reading emails so fluently, or reading different other scripts and things on Living Blindfully, it encourages me to perhaps take up Braille for the first time, or get back into Braille where I’d let it lapse. And just being an ambassador by virtue of what you do can be incredibly powerful.

Some people enjoy using Braille. They value it as a tool.

But what drives you to go further, to actually advocate for it, work to improve it? You’re spending a lot of time on the mechanics, what at ICEB call the nerdiness of Braille. Why are you doing that?

Matthew: [laughs] Well, I’m always interested in how things work. I mean, I did computer science at university. I didn’t do as much with that computer science degree as I thought I would. But I was interested in how computers worked and how speech synthesis worked.

And then, I became interested in how Braille worked, why was it that this sign meant this, who decided it, and when did they decide it, and why couldn’t it mean this instead?

So I can’t really remember when that manifested itself, but I learned about the Braille Authority of the United Kingdom when I was about 15 or 16, and had all of the code books on my BrailleNote MPower as it was then, and read them, and found some of them a bit complicated, and some of them made sense.

And then when UEB came in, I wasn’t really involved in that decision at all. But when UEB came in, I was at university, just starting out at university.

And when I finished university, I needed a job. And I landed a job as a Braille transcriber at Exhall Grange School, which I mentioned earlier on, at the time that the UEB transition was happening. And so by necessity, I ended up getting involved in the weeds of Braille rules, and why you couldn’t use this sign anymore, and why you could use this sign now where you couldn’t before.

And I suppose, that just led to naturally learning enough that I felt I ought to learn more. And so I learned more and more and more, and became involved in what is now the UK Association for Accessible Formats, which is our Braille authority, and just find it really interesting to just hear some of that rationale, and to try and apply it to various things.

And then, I found I was helping people out. And I enjoy helping people out, actually. The thing I love about the work that I do now is that I can see somebody in trouble, and I can work out what their trouble is, and I can fix their trouble, and I can send them away happy. And I really enjoy doing that.

So I used to enjoy helping people answer their Braille questions. And I suppose, one thing led to another. [laughs] And so now, here I am.

But I never really thought about it consciously. It all just sort of happened organically.

Jonathan: How and when did the Braillists Foundation get started?

Matthew: Now, that was completely separate to everything, really.

There was a company called Bristol Braille Technology. They still exist. They make the Canute 360, which is a multi-line Braille display. And they, around about 2014, needed some focus groups of blind people to test their very early prototypes.

This was very exciting! This was the first multi-line Braille display that many of us had heard of, and it was certainly the first one in the UK, and it was the first one we could actually get our hands on. And so a bunch of us came down to Bristol for the first prototyping session.

I think I didn’t make the first one. I think I came to the second one, actually, because the first one was just local to Bristol. But this session was huge. Exhall Grange actually sent me down for continuing professional development, as we call it, staff training. They paid for my train ticket to go down and look at it. And there was a whole host of us from various different things, all of whom were blind, as it happened, and all of whom were really keen to put this thing through its paces.

And we all started talking about Braille afterwards. And we realized that it was the first time many of us had come together to talk about Braille.

And it goes back to what you were saying earlier on about perceptions. We were all talking about Braille very positively, and it improved our perceptions of Braille, let alone the perceptions of people around us.

And so a decision was taken that perhaps we ought to have these meetings a bit more regularly. And so they happened.

And then, a decision was taken that perhaps, we ought to have a body to establish these meetings and do a bit more with them, you know, have some guest speakers, and maybe help other people prototype their products.

And so the process was put in place to form a registered charity, or a non-profit as you would call it in the US, perhaps.

So the registered charity status was long and arduous, and we didn’t get it until January 2020. And everything sort of went on hold at that point because of COVID.

And so we set up intending to do one thing, and ended up doing another. But we’re actually very proud of what we’ve ended up doing.

Jonathan: What are you doing at the moment? What are some of the key projects that the Braillists Foundation’s involved in?

Matthew: Yes. So when COVID happened, we were a very agile organization. We still are a very agile organization because we’re a very small team. And there was a real need for the community to be brought together.

And so to start with, we actually did some very non-Braille-related stuff. We said right. Well actually, we’re just going to bring the community together and we’re going to make sure everybody’s okay, you know, and check that everybody has enough groceries. And if they don’t have enough groceries, give them some information about where to get more groceries from, and who was doing priority delivery slots and all of that sort of thing.

And that built up this huge community goodwill. And we had a community that was ready to be a community.

And they knew on some level that we were a Braille organization. And so at some point, we were going to turn our attention back to Braille.

And so what we started out by doing was actually running a Braille course during lockdown, the fingerprint course, which is quite common in the UK. We basically said if you want to buy fingerprint, we’ll go through it with you, and we’ll help you brush up your Braille. And we learned a lot from that.

But by and large, that was a great success. And so a lot of the projects that we’re doing now are based around that idea, really.

So we have a Braille for Beginners course, which teaches people remotely as best as we can. The grade 1 Braille code teaches more about reading than it does writing. We haven’t quite worked out how to teach writing remotely yet, But we have that.

Probably the thing that I’m most proud of is our program of masterclasses which started off weekly, and then became fortnightly, and are now just about monthly, where we take an aspect of Braille that we think perhaps needs to be fleshed out a bit more, and we invite somebody to present on that topic. So we’ve done some really obvious things like how to pair your Braille display with your computer or your smartphone, right through to some of the really nerdy stuff.

James Bowden did an excellent presentation about grade 3 Braille, for example. And we did a presentation about the Braille shorthand code. We’ve done sessions about how to advocate for Braille. We’ve done sessions about funding opportunities for Braille. And if you want a Braille display but you can’t find one, what are some of the avenues that you could go down?

And that’s really been incredible, really, because no one else is really talking about Braille like that. People are talking about Braille as in, you learn Braille at school, and you get books, and you read them, and that’s about all you do.

And so actually, just by running those sessions, we sort of really, I think, transform the landscape in terms of getting people to think about how else could you use Braille? You could use Braille to take your own notes. You could use Braille to organise your life, you know, all of that sort of stuff.

And then, we have various support groups. We have a Braille bar, we call it, which is just a drop-in session where you can come along and you can ask. We normally have one or two experts. I’m quite often there. James Bowden is the Braille Technical Officer at RNIB. He’s often there. We get a Braille technology expert in, you know, and you can ask questions like that.

And we have what we call a book club, but it’s really a reading support group. So people who want to practice their Braille reading, we have 5 groups now, and they all meet at the same time.

And then we go off into breakout rooms in Zoom, and each group has a book, and takes it in turns to go around and read, and encourages each other to read.

Jonathan: The Braille bar is an interesting one because many people may not appreciate that there was a Braille wine long before there was a Braille code. [laughs]

Matthew: I had no idea. [laughs]

Jonathan: Yeah, the Braille family ran a vineyard.

Matthew: My goodness!

Jonathan: Yeah.

Matthew: Well, the things you find out.

Jonathan: Yeah, you could get Braille wine even before you got Braille dots. [laughs]

So the Braillists Foundation also runs the Braillecast podcast as well, correct?

Matthew: We do.

Braillecast would like to do more than it’s currently doing. What it’s become of late is actually a vehicle for distributing the audio of some of those masterclasses that we were talking about.

Jonathan Right.

Matthew: That’s a very useful vehicle to have, and we’ll continue to do that.

I would really like, in the next year or so, to get back to doing what Braillecast really set out to do in the first place which is to interview interesting people and talk to people about their Braille stories, expose some Braille news, do some product reviews, and things like that. We’ve sort of dropped the ball on that a little bit.

But people still enjoy Braillecast, and I think there’s still a lot of very useful content on there.

Jonathan: Let’s talk about Braille today, in your ICEB work. What does the Code Maintenance Officer do? It sounds very important, I have to say.

Matthew: Yeah, and it’s nothing at all to do with computer code. People know that I have a computer science background. And so when I say I’m the Code Maintenance Officer, they think I must look after computer code. No, it’s the UEB code.

Back in the old days of ICEB, there were lots of committees. There was UEB Committee 1 to 6, I believe, that all looked at a different aspect of UEB.

UEB is now sufficiently robust and stable that it doesn’t need six committees anymore. It’s only got 2 committees. There’s the UEB Code Maintenance Committee, and there’s the UEB Technical Materials Subcommittee which is technically a subcommittee of the Code Maintenance Committee. And the role of these committees really is to look at the UEB code to monitor how it’s working.

You know, rules were devised back in the day in a very theoretical way because nobody was actually using the code. So we had to make decisions, or the ICEB of the past had to make decisions based on what it thought would be good. But there was no real sense of anybody using it in the wild.

And so it monitors how UEB is going, makes adjustments to the rules where it thinks that’s necessary.

It also monitors how print is going and makes adjustments to Braille rules based on that, so that we don’t have, all of a sudden, a brand new Braille code has to be written because Braille’s got so far behind. We’re trying to really keep on top of that. And so that’s what it does. It writes rules, it adjusts rules, it modifies rules, and it tries to do so in as convivial a manner as it can.

Jonathan: So you’re like this Braille Czar, or is there quite a democratic process that leads to these changes?

Matthew: So the Unified English Braille code is owned by the International Council on English Braille. Every country that is a member of ICEB has equal ownership, if you like, of the UEB code. That would be Australia, Canada, Ireland, Nepal (now, that’s the newest member), New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Each of those countries is allowed to appoint one representative on the executive committee. And also, one representative on the Code Maintenance Committee.

And so when a rule needs to be adjusted, or a new rule needs to be created, a proposal will come through an official channel. It will usually, in fact, come through a Braille Authority like UKAF, or the Braille Authority of North America, or BANZAT, or Australian Braille Authority, and so on. It could also come via the ICEB executive, or it could come through me as the Code Maintenance Officer, if it needed to.

So a proposal comes through. The Code Maintenance Committee will look at that proposal and say yes, we see the rationale behind that and yes, we think it’s a good idea, or yes, we see the rationale behind that but no, we don’t think it’s a good idea. Someone’s come up with a better one, or actually, no, we don’t get it. Could we refer it back and get some more information?

So that happens. And then gradually, from that proposal, some rules will be formed, and those rules will be tested. And quite often, someone will come back and say well, actually, that works most of the time. But if you look at this edge case, this doesn’t work quite so well. And perhaps we ought to tweak some wording here.

And then, there’ll be a vote. Every country has 1 vote, which is through their representative to the Code Maintenance Committee.

I, in fact, don’t have a vote. The Code Maintenance Officer chairs the Code Maintenance Committee, and the chair doesn’t have a vote. So I have to coordinate the work, and I have to call for a vote.

And I think I have a deciding vote. If there was a tie, I’d be able to break the tie.

But yeah. We vote, a decision is taken, and then that decision gets forwarded to the executive committee who has a second vote. And so technically, the executive committee, if it really felt necessary, could override the Code Maintenance Committee and say no, we don’t agree with that. I don’t think that has ever happened, but it could, if it needed to.

Jonathan: And presumably, each Braille authority is still at liberty to do its own thing to some degree. And I say this because although Braille now seems to be more unified than it’s ever been, you’ve still got Nemeth being used in the United States, for example.

So is there some sort of ability to show some autonomy in certain circumstances?

Matthew: Well, a Braille authority can do what it likes, of course. [laughs]

The Braille authority pays a membership to ICEB. So actually, the Braille authorities hold ICEB to account. It’s not ICEB holding the Braille authorities to account.

ICEB would take a dim view, I think, if a Braille authority said that it was using Unified English Braille, but then had its own version of Unified English Braille that it was using.

Jonathan: Isn’t that exactly what they’re doing in the US with the use of Nemeth?

Matthew: No, because they’re being very open about the fact that they’re using Nemeth. They’re not pretending that they’re using UEB Maths when they’re not. They’re saying they’re using UEB for literary, and Nemeth for mathematics.

Whether we like that in ICEB is by the by [laughs], but they’re entitled to do that. And, you know, that’s fine because they’re at least being honest about what they were doing.

I think it would become slightly more awkward if, for example, the Code Maintenance Committee was to recommend a change to Unified English Braille. And then, one Braille authority did not implement that change. Because at that point, they’re not using Unified English Braille anymore. They’re using the British version of UEB, or the American version of UEB, or what have you. I don’t think it would be fair to call it Unified English Braille anymore. And I think ICEB would want the Braille authority to acknowledge that.

Jonathan: The Braille code, as you say, needs to evolve. And it had a massive catch up with UEB which was to some degree, what this was all about.

But you know, when I hear people talk about UEB, I still detect an awful lot of grumpiness about the code. What are the concerns of opponents of UEB, as you understand them, all these years on?

Matthew: Blind people feel, and rightly so, a great deal of ownership over Braille. Blind people see Braille as theirs in a way that I don’t think sighted people see print as theirs. I feel there’s a great deal of ownership over Braille.

And people learn the Braille that they learned and are comfortable with the Braille that they learned, and don’t appreciate it when some higher-ups somewhere…

I think a lot of blind people, certainly in the UK, and I suspect in other places as well, have a perception that the higher-ups that make Braille are sighted. And I think they feel very strongly that sighted people are interfering with their Braille. And I’m not sure that that’s the case. Actually, a lot of ICEB is now very much touch readers. And that’s a good thing.

So I think there’s an element of being protective over the Braille that they learned. I think there’s also an element of comfort of the Braille that they learned.

And I think there is a fear that one of the things that happened as a part of Unified English Braille is that 9 contractions were taken out of the UEB code. And I think people miss those contractions. I think people perceive that UEB takes up more space because those contractions have been eliminated. I think people are very upset that they can’t use their to sign anymore, and they can’t, you know, put their and for, off the, with, together, and they can’t use their .6 N and their .6 Y.

And I feel like possibly, the way that we marketed UEB to begin with, obviously, that was on a country by country basis. But I think possibly, the way that we did it was not the most helpful because the way that we marketed UEB to begin with was this is an entirely new Braille code. And I think people took that message to heart. I hear some people now calling UEB grade 1.5. And that just is not the case.

Jonathan: [laughs] That’s a bit extreme.

Matthew: Oh yeah. But I hear it. I hear it a lot.

Jonathan: Wow!

Matthew: And it’s just not the case.

Back in 2004, the United Kingdom made some changes to British Braille to do with, well, all sorts of little things. But for example, the italic sign, how you would used to do it is you’d do dots 4 6 4 6, and then you’d write the word. And then, you’d do a dots 4 6 before the last word that was italicized. In 2004, a change was made in the UK to put the italics terminator at the end of the passage, to sort of bring it into line with UEB as almost.

And when that change happened, there was very little controversy because it was marketed as a refinement, as an improvement, as something.

I think if we didn’t call it UEB, I think if we just said we’re updating the Braille code in order to bring it in line with modern conventions, I actually don’t think there would have been nearly as much upheaval.

Jonathan: How much consultation should there be about the revision of the code? Because a lot of this stuff is highly technical. People may not appreciate that if you make one change, it has an impact on something else you did not foresee. And yet, as you say, blind people do feel the strong sense of ownership and they don’t want these changes imposed on them. How do you get that balance right?

Matthew: I think it’s right that blind people are consulted about the code. I’ll say that to start with, if the Code Maintenance Committee felt it necessary to make a revision to the code that was more than just clarifying rules and things like that, if we were going to invent new symbols and things like that, I really think that I would want there to be consultation with blind people as part of that process. The length of that consultation would depend on how much of a change we’re planning to make. But I do think it’s important.

I think the problem is though, that everybody thinks about themselves. [laughs] And rightly so, of course. If you’re going to ask somebody’s opinion, you’re going to get somebody’s opinion.

But it’s very easy for one person to look at a change and think no, that’s not going to benefit me. Therefore, this is a bad idea, and vote it down.

When actually, they’re only reading Braille. They’re not having to write Braille. and so they’re not thinking about the perspective of somebody who needs to write Braille and have that Braille back-translated. In fact, with things like Braille screen input, it’s interesting.

I don’t think we’ve quite seen it yet. But I can see it happening where somebody writes more Braille than they read, so they look at a rule and they think no, I really need to have this because it will allow me to write braille better, but won’t really be thinking about the impact of people who need to read Braille.

So I think, consultation is important. I think what we need to be careful of when we do consultation about Braille is we need to be careful that people don’t think that because they’ve given their opinion, that that is the way that it’s going to go. Because we might consult and they might give an opinion. And we might take that opinion very seriously, but we might ultimately decide for all sorts of reasons that actually, on this occasion, we need to do it this way.

Jonathan: It’s interesting. You’re talking about some of the debates that there have been, or the changes that there have been prior to UEB. There were some different hot-button issues around the English-speaking Braille world.

And one of the issues that always fascinated me from a very long distance is that for a very long time, British Braille didn’t use capital signs. And there was vocal opposition from the Brits to capitalization becoming the norm. I realize this is a historical thing.

But what was the argument in favor of omitting capital signs? Was it just space? And do you think that affected people’s literacy when communicating in print to sighted people?

Matthew: Oh, it entirely did. It absolutely did. I know blind people, even now, I can receive a fully perfectly spelt, perfectly formulated email from a blind person in the UK of a certain age, and there’ll be no capitals in that email at all.

I think it’s terrible. And I really, I don’t know what to do about that. [laughs] There’s nothing you can do about it, really, but it’s not a good advert for blind people. That’s for sure.

Jonathan: I guess it’s one way of dealing with the capitalization of the code question, right? Uppercase B or not doesn’t matter.


Matthew: Yes, it’s true. It’s absolutely true.

No. But I think at the time, I mean, Braille was a blind person’s medium. It wasn’t a sighted person’s medium. And at the time, there wasn’t really much in the way of communicating in a sighted medium.

So I suppose it was a space-saving thing. It was considered well, do blind people really need capitals anyway? Probably not, because you know that there’s a capital at the start of somebody’s name, and you know there’s a capital at the start of a sentence. And if you know the rules, do you really need to show that in Braille? Because it just takes up a lot of space.

And interestingly, it’s the same argument now that we’re having about all of these new indicators. UEB can indicate bold, and italics, and underline separately. So what if a passage is in both bold and italics? Do we need to see both the bold and italics? And there are arguments on both sides of that question as well, and standard-setting bodies are still working through the ramifications of those, and still trying to work out actually, when is it appropriate to show type forms, and when is it not appropriate to show type forms?

Jonathan: I remember on a very early edition of Blindline, and we’re coming up to 25 years ago, we were having a discussion about optimal settings for your Braille Lite, which was a very popular display back then.

And this person from Britain called in and said, “The best thing you can do to optimize your Braille Lite is to turn off the capitals because then, you get a whole lot more data on one line before you have to refresh.”

I’m thinking, oh my goodness! you know, but I’m deprived of essential information here, and it was just a very different worldview.

atthew: Yeah. And space-saving was definitely what it boiled down to. People just felt that they could write more quickly, that they could read more quickly, that they didn’t have the interference. And yup, that really was what it boiled down to.

Jonathan: Hmm.

There’s a wonderful initiative going on in the United States where the National Library Service is distributing Braille displays for anyone who wants one, basically. Do you see something like that ever happening in the UK

Matthew: No. [laughs]

The National Library Service benefits enormously from just being the National Library Service. So the National Library Service doesn’t have any stake in any particular Braille display at all.

The National Library Service has a stake in reading, and that’s as far as it goes. Or at least, that’s my understanding of how the National Library Service operates.

So the National Library Service did some independent research, I would hope, and decided that piezoelectric displays were still the way to go, and it would put a load of money into funding piezoelectric displays for its customers.

In the UK, we used to have the National Library for the Blind. And why, I’m not sure, but it was purchased by RNIB and became for a while what RNIB called the National Library Service. It’s now just called the RNIB Library.

But the RNIB Library is part of RNIB. And therefore, is beholden to RNIB’s view, and RNIB’s priorities, and so on and so on.

And RNIB was a big stakeholder in the Transforming Braille Group. And the Transforming Braille Group was the group that ultimately funded Orbit Research to come up with the Orbit Reader 20. So RNIB has an enormous stake in the Orbit Reader because of the amount of money that it invested in the Transforming Braille group. And so I just don’t see RNIB doing anything other than Orbit displays, or things that are connected with the Transforming Braille group.

Jonathan: Having been involved in the manufacture of several Braille devices, I viewed that whole Transforming Braille Group exercise with some curiosity and a bit of bemusement. Because I think there was this view that certainly a number of blind people hold, that Braille display manufacturers, they’re price-gouging, and that these things actually should be a lot cheaper than they are. And I smiled to myself, as somebody who’s made sure that there’ve been 2 separate 40% reductions in the cost of refreshable Braille. And I thought it is a lot more difficult to manufacture something that feels like Braille and is as responsive as it needs to be than you might think.

And I do wonder whether some of these entities that have spent quite a bit of charitable donation on this thing regret having done it now.

Matthew: Well, I don’t work for RNIB, [laughs] so I couldn’t tell you how RNIB felt about it.

I do know that there’s been a lot of unrest in the blind community in the UK about the quality control of Orbit displays.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Matthew: I feel quite sorry for Orbit Research, really, because part of the problem with the way that the Transforming Braille Group and things like that work, my understanding of it anyway, is that in order to get the costs down, they had to manufacture them in quite large batches. And so there was quite a long lead time between an Orbit Reader being manufactured, and that Orbit Reader actually being picked up by a customer.

So my understanding is, in fact, that Orbit Research has managed to sort out a lot of the quality control problems now. But I don’t know whether Orbit displays that were being purchased by customers in the UK, I don’t know how old they were. So it’s quite possible that even fairly recently, they were being purchased from batches where that quality control improvement hadn’t been made.

So I don’t know to what extent we should regret it. I think there is definitely a place for bringing down the cost of refreshable Braille. I think actually, the Orbit meets a need, and I think we have a lot to be proud of, in that okay, look. As a blind professional adult, you’re going to need a Braille display that is hard-wearing, and that is fit for purpose, and that’s quiet, and that refreshes responsively. And perhaps, the Orbit Reader doesn’t meet that need. Perhaps we need a piezoelectric display for that.

But for a child who’s just starting to learn to read Braille, we can get refreshable Braille displays. We can get Orbit Readers into the hands of very young children who we might not trust with expensive Braille equipment, or who might not be ready for expensive Braille equipment. But we can give them a cheap display to start off with.

And it’s good Braille, you know. It’s a bit noisy to refresh. But for casual reading, it’s fine. I quite enjoy reading off an Orbit Reader, actually. I just don’t enjoy reading in public because it’s noisy. [laughs]

But you know, I think we have a lot to be proud of. I see many people who don’t know whether they want a Braille display or not, and who, historically, might have said, “Well, I can’t afford a Braille display, and I don’t think I need one.” who are now saying well, maybe I could afford an Orbit, actually. And they’ve got their Orbit, and they’re realizing the benefits of these electronic Braille displays. And then, starting to use them more and more. And then, starting to think well actually, yes, maybe I need a better one.

Jonathan: But meanwhile, Americans are getting responsive, quiet devices.

Matthew: Yeah, and I’d like to see the UK have responsive quiet devices as well.

But they’re getting responsive quiet devices.

I don’t know. I wonder, in fact, whether the Orbit has a slightly better feature set than some of those responsive quiet devices. [laughs]

I don’t know that the US NLS eReader has a built-in editor, for example. I think it can read, and I think it can connect to a computer, but I don’t think you can do onboard editing with them.

Jonathan: Ah. Interesting question, that. Yeah, I’ll ask Tamara about that because we’re due to speak with her, so I’ll be sure to do that.

What other technological trends in the Braille arena are you excited about at the moment?

Matthew: [laughs] I don’t know. I suppose what you’re expecting me to say is multi-line displays and tactile graphics displays. I’m cautiously excited about multi-line displays and tactile graphics displays.

I think there’s a lot of potential in multi-line displays, and I’m not convinced that that potential is being realized. I’m a bit sad about that.

I wrote a paper for the ICEB General Assembly about that, actually, and it will be made available on the ICEB website in due course.

I would really like to see some joined-up thinking with multi-line Braille display manufacturers, with screen reader manufacturers, with transcribers (We’re starting to see that a little bit with the Daisy eBraille project.) to really make multi-line worth it. Because at the moment, I think we’ve just got multi-line for the sake of multi-line, and I’m not sure that’s really helpful for anybody if we had multi-line.

I mean, I said this at ICEB. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you had a multi-line display where all of your screen reader status messages had their own dedicated line? So you could be reading a presentation on a Zoom call, for example, or a Teams meeting. And when somebody leaves the meeting, you still have that alert if you want to go and read that alert, but it’s not interrupting what you’re reading in the way that it does at the moment.

Jonathan: Right, right.

Matthew: And I think there’s a lot of fundamental design stuff the industry hasn’t done, because the industry is banking on people buying it because it’s multi-line, and multi-line is good enough. I don’t think multi-line is good enough. I think we need to have some quite serious design considerations about how are we best going to use that multi-line. And when we’ve had those discussions, I think multi-line will be brilliant.

Jonathan: And boy! Some of those devices are hideously expensive, aren’t they?

Matthew: [laughs] Yeah, they are.

Some of them are not, though. I mean, let’s talk about Canute 360. I mean, it’s relatively cheap, you know. You could pick up a Canute 360, which is 9 lines of 40, for the same price as you could pick up a Braille display that was 1 line of 40. So some of them are cheaper than others. it’s really just about how we use them. Jonathan: What advice, as we wrap, would you give to people who are listening to this and they’re thinking, this is inspiring me to investigate Braille a bit more. Maybe I learned that as a kid and stopped, maybe I never did and really regret that I didn’t get the chance. How should someone get started with their Braille journey if they’re an adult listening to this?

Matthew: I mean, that depends, to a certain extent, on where you live and what resources are available to you.

I think fundamentally though, what you probably need to do if you’re going to get started on a Braille journey is decide how you’re going to get started on your Braille journey. Or more accurately, why you want to get started on your Braille journey. Have a reason to get started. And that reason might be to start with fairly small. You might want to just label some things around the house. You might want to just play a card game. And therefore, you might need to learn how to read a deck of Braille cards.

And then, those objectives might get bigger. You might want to read books in silence, or you might want to read for a specific purpose, like for what I do in the cathedral.

But you need to have an objective. I think if you just go into it and say I want to learn Braille, and you don’t know why you want to learn Braille, …

Learning Braille can be hard. It can be extremely rewarding, extremely worthwhile.

I would encourage anybody to learn Braille, but you need something to motivate you to learn Braille. And just learning Braille for the sake of learning Braille, I don’t think is going to motivate many people. So think of a reason why you want to learn Braille. Keep that reason in the back of your mind. Go looking for resources. The Braillists Foundation has resources if you want to use those. I’m sure, Hadley School for the Blind probably have resources as well if you want to tap into those. It really will depend on where you live.

And contact national service providers for the blind. Contact national Braille organizations, and see where to go from there. But have an objective in mind when you do it.

Jonathan: So can you give me a couple of resources that people could visit? The Braillists Foundation website, for example, sounds like a good starting point.

Matthew: Absolutely. That would be If you were specifically interested in learning Braille, is our Braille for Beginners course.

Beyond that, as I say, your national organizations for the blind, and I don’t know as much about that as I should.

In the UK, you can get self-study Braille courses from RNIB, which would be

I’m not actually sure where you would get them in other parts of the world. And perhaps, that’s a bit of a take-home for me – to compile a page for the Braillists website of useful places where you can get Braille resources from.

Jonathan: And your introductory Braille course at the Braillists Foundation, is that available to anybody, or is it exclusively UK?

Matthew: We want to make it available to everybody.

Due to funding constraints, if you want hard copy of the course, at the moment, it’s only available in the UK.

But we are working very closely to try and make it available elsewhere. We have somebody who is lined up to make it available in the US. We’re just putting the finishing touches on that at the moment.

We are very happy to support people. if they have the means of embossing hard copy, we’re very happy to support people with that. We’ll send people the files, so that they can get their hard copy embossed.

And we’re actively looking for opportunities to bring it to other places.

And if people have electronic Braille displays, which some people do, it’s really interesting. I’ve heard from a few people now who have a Braille display, but don’t know Braille. And so they’re able to follow the Braille for Beginners course. We give them a BRF file, they can load onto their Braille display, and they’re able to follow the Braille for Beginners course that way.

Jonathan: Interesting.

Well, this is one of my favorite subjects. So I’ve very much enjoyed it. The time has flown by.

And I appreciate all that you’re doing in so many guises. So thank you for your time. I appreciate that.

Matthew: Thank you very much! It’s been a wonderful interview.


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Closing and Contact Info

Right. Well, that’s time flew by.

Thank you very much for your company, and all the contributions. Do keep them coming in.

We’ll see you next week.

And remember that when you’re out there with your guide dog, you’ve harnessed success. And with your cane, you’re able.


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