All About Braille Displays

Have you ever wondered how blind individuals access a computer? If that sounds like you, this blog article is just for you!

Computers and phones are a very important part of life in this day and age. The world of technology is changing rapidly. We use computers and phones every day to write documents, send and receive messages, browse the internet, listen to music, play games, complete school work, and much more. Computers are not usable by blind individuals without accessibility features, so how do they use them?

There are two main ways a blind person can access a computer: either by using a screen reader, which will read the contents of the screen to them in speech format, or by using a braille display. Many blind individuals use screen readers in conjunction with braille displays for optimal productivity.

So what s a braille display? A braille display is a computer device that displays braille by the raising and lowering of pins to form dots. A braille display is the equivalent of a computer screen for the blind. Braille displays are usually connected to computers or phones to display the contents of the screen so blind individuals can use those devices with more ease.

Braille literacy is crucial to the successful education and employment of any individual who is blind. Traditionally, braille is written onto paper using typewriter style devices called braillers (or even a slate and stylus) but the critical role of technology in today’s world has changed that. Although the rapid development of text to speech programs has made braille literacy seem less crucial on the surface, that is certainly not the case. Speech is not a replacement for braille, and it is often easy to miss important information by using speech alone. This is where braille displays come in.

Benefits of having a braille display include:

  • Access to information. Also speech driven screen reading technology has come a long way making it easy for blind individuals to use computers without braille. It has been my personal experience that the braille display will show things that is often eliminated in speech output and vice versa. In addition, proficient braille readers may find it faster to move through long blocks of text using braille rather than speech.
  • Easier proofreading. When writing long papers or other documents, it is necessary to be able to check for grammar and formatting errors, like incorrectly spelled words, punctuation errors, or the insertion of too many or too few spaces between words. Sighted people can just look at the screen to do that, but what happens if you’re blind? Well, one could just rely on the speech output of a screen reading program, but it is harder to catch subtle errors using speech alone. Braille displays solve this problem.
  • Increased independence and less reliance on a braille transcriber or sighted assistant. Braille displays play an important role in translating print to braille, which makes it possible for a student to complete school assignments without having to rely on a braille transcriber to print a hard copy in braille, have the student type the assignment on a brailler, and then having to go through a braille transcriber to transcribe the assignment into print. By using a braille display, a blind person can write their assignment while having access to braille, save the assignment as a Word document, and send it to the teacher for grading.

Braille displays usually consist of a row of refreshable braille cells, a Perkins style keyboard for typing, several buttons for navigation, and a series of little buttons above the braille cells for routing the cursor for editing. The number of braille cells varies depending on the manufacturer and model of the display. A braille display can have as few as 14 cells and as many as 80, but braille displays with 32 or 40 cells are generally recommended most often unless one needs something that’s exceptionally small.

A basic braille display does not really have any onboard software, just the ability to connect to a computer or phone to display what’s on the computer screen. That said, many more modern braille display manufacturers are also including additional software features that can be used without having to connect to another device, such as writing notes, reading books, performing math calculations and scheduling appointments. Those extra features make braille displays more useful by enabling them to be portable notetakers that can be used on the fly for basic tasks, rather than just being a braille display for another device.

Braille displays enable blind individuals to access computers and phones while still being able to enjoy reading braille. Braille displays are unfortunately quite expensive and usually cost several thousand dollars, but the benefits of having those devices makes them worth the money. While being able to access a computer or phone using speech is helpful, braille helps to fill in the gaps by providing similar information in a different format, which increases productivity.

by Ella Y