Refreshable braille displays are electronic devices that are used to read text tactually that is typically displayed visually on a computer monitor or mobile device or tablet. The device is connected to the computer or device by a serial cable, USB cable or via Bluetooth and produces braille output on the braille display (small plastic or metal pins that move up and down to display the braille characters).
Screen reading software is needed for the user to have access to any information on the screen. Braille displays vary in terms of how many cells are available. The numbers after the name of a refreshable braille display indicates the number of braille cells active; 80 cells would give the computer user one line of information on the computer screen; 40 and 65 would give partial lines. Some portable note takers that have refreshable braille can be used as a refreshable braille display for a computer.
Many current braille displays also have a braille keyboard so the device can be used for both reading text and creating text. Some braille displays also now have basic note-taking capabilities for taking notes on the go.
Questions to consider when choosing a refreshable braille display
- Does it have a braille keyboard?
- Does it have basic note taking functions, so that it could be used without a computer to take notes? If yes, can you customize the speech feedback? (e.g., speech, pitch, volume, verbosity, language) and are headphones needed?
- How many braille cells are active on the display?
- Are there multiple rows available on the display? Multi-line braille displays/tablets are an emerging technology that may be explored as an option.
- Does it have extra keys that can be programmed with additional commands?
- Is it compatible with your screen reader and operating system?
- Do you have the right connections, adaptors, or wireless support (e.g., Bluetooth, wifi) to connect?
- Are the documents you create able to be easily saved in a format that can be shared or opened by others?
- What is the physical layout of the keyboard and buttons? Do the buttons allow smooth and comfortable navigation without awkward movement?
- Are the buttons easy to tell apart (e.g., different sizes, tactile labels, different enough positions?)
- How easy it is to take with you if portability is required? (e.g., size, weight, carrying case, battery length if applicable)
- What is its power source? (e.g., Do you need to have a wall outlet available? Is it USB powered?)
- What is the warranty available for the technology? How are repairs handled? (e.g., is there someone in your area?)
- How will you get support if you need it? (e.g., a technician in the school, a local vendor, by telephone, by email, remote access, etc.)
Refreshable Braille Display Manufacturers
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Learn more about braille
Learn about other alternative formats