Bonocle and New Horizons in Teaching Braille

September 1, 2023

Read Time: 6 Mins
A hand grasping Bonocle on top of a white surface.

There is no doubt that Braille literacy is essential for those who are visually impaired and are not able to access printed materials. It helps them to engage with the written word appropriately, be more independent, and improve their quality of life. despite the fact that there are so many tools designed for teaching braille, whether simple or complicated, the field is still lacking a comprehensive tool and awaits any creative and useful idea or innovation that would facilitate the process of introducing Braille to learners and training them on it. And recently, I was introduced to one of those innovations that took advantage of modern technology to present the Braille reading system in an attractive, interesting and entertaining way; It is called Bonocle.

Bonocle is a small device that has the shape of a symmetrical computer mouse. It contains one electronic refreshable braille cell, and a set of buttons and sensors that help make the most of its braille cell. it can be connected to Smartphones via Bluetooth, where one can download and access a library of applications that work with the device to unlock its potential. there are apps for reading documents, recognizing spellings, learning letters and symbols, taking notes, and many other interactive tools and games which will make you discover that a single braille cell can do so much more than you might imagine.

Apart from the capabilities of the device and the plenty of functions it provides, which you can learn more about by visiting the company’s official website, it can have a great impact on the journey of teaching/learning Braille. It packs a lot of new ideas and methods to introduce and simplify the learning process, which sharpen the senses and link them brilliantly through comprehensive outputs designed Accurately for the benefit of the student and the teacher alike. This includes the pre-braille phase and exploring the cell, the phase of recognizing letters and symbols, and even the proficiency in reading and constructing words.

Pre-braille skills are skills taught to increase tactual awareness and perception for students who are about to learn to read and write braille soon. And while using it, i found out that Bonocle contains many applications and games that can contribute to enhancing these skills for the learners, and developing their awareness of the basic ideas that will be built upon in the future throughout the overall learning process. For instance, some of the available games can help the learner develop the concept of a Braille cell, how it is divided into three rows of dots each, and how the positions of those dots can be discerned on the smooth surface of the cell.

In "Bo's Run", you will imagine your guide dog running down paths filled with obstacles, and you'll have to pay close attention to the dot patterns that are shown under your finger, because they will tell you what reaction you have to take in order to avoid them. moreover, the student will develop a set of very important skills in the pre-Braille phase, which are related to the fine motor skills, including grasp with thumb and fingers, release, rotary motion, finger isolation, proper finger position, light touch, and tactual tracking skills. He will understand that he has to make a decision to save the dog from the obstacle, and this decision will be determined by a simple movement of the hand in a specific direction depending on the dot pattern that his finger will touch; Thus, the idea of ​​reading in sequence will be developed in a fun and simple way. As for the famous game of tic-tac-toe, it will help the student understand the grid and how to navigate it horizontally and vertically, which will eventually enhance building overall mental image for cells, lines and pages.

When the learner gets to the stage where he starts recognizing letters and symbols, he will find in Bonocle a set of tools that will facilitate the learning process and make the journey more enjoyable, whether it is self-study or in a classroom. Their suite of educational apps includes the "Bonocle alphabet" app, an all-in-one Braille training platform from A to Z. It allows you to choose what language you would like to teach/learn, and then it will display all its letters, symbols, and punctuation marks arranged into categories that are easy to browse and navigate through. The student can choose the letter or symbol that he wants to learn, and it will immediately appear on Bonocle's braille cell. Teachers can also choose to show the symbols they want to teach in the order they want. Moreover, Bonocle can be also suitable for group learning scenarios, where more than one device can be paired with one smartphone, so that the same character appears on all devices at the same moment. In addition, it features a lot of interactive exercises that provide a practical opportunity to measure and monitor the learning progress that has been achieved. this happens through evaluation questions presented in a form of competitions, prizes and motivational trophies.

Benefits of Bonocle extend beyond the novice learners to those who master reading in braille, with its unique features and tools that maximize the use of one single braille cell to enhance braille literacy and improve on the relevant skills. For instance, the "Bonocle Notes" app provides a convenient way of jotting down and recalling important ideas at any time, plus I've found it to be extremely useful for creating and delivering reading exercises for students to practice and monitor progress, with the help of the different reading modes it provides. For example, it is possible to move Bonocle left and right on a flat surface by a pre-defined amount to change the characters on the cell while reading. It is also possible to use an auto-scroll mode in which the characters are automatically changed over a certain period of time. The buttons on the device can be used to control the displayed braille, whether to move forward, backward or to repeat the text. In addition, the multisensory approach which is adopted by the device to output information, contributes to enhancing comprehension and perception. whether it will be through the high-quality text to speech voices from the phone, the accurate haptic feedback and the braille shown on the refreshable cell, the learner will find the ideal combination for his needs that will help him reaching his goals while reading; All this with the ability to customize settings according to each user's personal preference.  

For those who have difficulties with spellings or need to make sure how a certain word is written, the "Bonocle spelling" app will be a very handy solution to overcome this problem and avoid it gradually. All it takes is pressing the dictation button, pronouncing the word correctly, and then reading the correct spelling on the Braille cell. It's possible to bookmark the word to return to it later, and to create lists of frequently checked words - a feature I've found very important for teachers in training students to read words with similar or reversed dot patterns in Braille.

In summary, BONOCLE device represents an exceptional addition to the Braille training and teaching toolkit, with its innovative solutions, out-of-the-ordinary ideas, and smart methods of presenting Braille in an interesting, fun, and simple way. there is definitely a bright future awaiting this innovation, as the library of applications can be developed, improved or even altered based on the requirements of the braille enthusiasts and their recommendations. There is a great deal of flexibility in the content added to these apps, which opens the door for including more comprehensive braille teaching curriculum. moreover, the simplicity in operating the device and its software interface avoids a steep learning curve to get started with introducing braille technology to the students. it utilizes learning through play strategies, as the games they develop are joyful, meaningful, actively engaging, iterative and socially interactive. This means that it does not only aims at developing braille literacy, but it also works on improving a lot of other skills that users will use throughout their lives.

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Ikrami Ahmed
Braille Instructor