Braille Access to Portable Devices Using Refreshabraille

By Tai Blas
Contributing Writer

I have recently acquired a Refreshabraille 18 Braille display sold by the American Printing House for the Blind. Refreshabraille, which retails for $1,695, is an 18-cell display and Braille keyboard, which connects to devices using either Bluetooth or USB connection.

Refreshabraille 18The unit quickly paired with both an iPhone and iPad without difficulty. It measures only 3-x-5-x-1 inches, making it extremely portable. Its battery charges via a mini USB cable, which you can connect to a standard USB wall charger or to a computer. It charges in approximately four hours and then provides 30 hours of battery life.

It has an eight-dot keyboard for entry of either Grade I or Grade II Braille. Using the iPhone to send tweets to Twitter, VoiceOver had no difficulty translating Grade II contractions and special characters and symbols such as the # for hash tags. 

The display has the ability to work in two distinct physical orientations. The first finds the 18-cell Braille display at the top of the unit facing away from the user. Below the 18 cells are the cursor routing keys. In front of the routing keys are three small rectangular buttons evenly spaced across the unit, the left and right being the reverse advance buttons and the middle acting as a spacebar. In front of these three bar-shaped buttons is a small five-position joystick used for navigating through screens and documents with your display. With it, you can arrow left and right, up and down, and press enter or select on desired items. In front of the joystick is the six-dot Braille entry keyboard. In front of these are three buttons, two square buttons on the left and right and one rectangular button in between. The middle rectangle is the spacebar, while the two buttons on the sides are dots 7 and 8. Used in combination with the spacebar, these keys perform the backspace and enter functions as well. On the front edge of the unit is a flat square power button.

When the unit is powered on, it is automatically discoverable by Bluetooth-enabled devices.

The second orientation finds the power button on the back edge and the Braille display at the front of the unit toward the user. This puts dots 7 and 8 and the spacebar at the top of the unit. The user can either use the spacebar above the input keyboard or the small bar underneath as their preferred spacebar.

I used this display with my iPhone and VoiceOver in combination with the display have been able to handle displaying everything I have tried to read other than images which VoiceOver cannot interpret.

I simply turned on VoiceOver’s Braille setting, asked it to discover Braille displays, and off I went. Within Apple’s accessibility settings, users can specify whether they want to read Grade I or Grade II Braille.

This device would be excellent for students and professionals alike due to its very small size and the fact that it has a built-in Braille keyboard, eliminating the need for those who prefer physical keyboards to carry a second device.

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2 Responses to Braille Access to Portable Devices Using Refreshabraille

  1. Michael Barber says:

    Devices such as this will open the door to extremely portable and more affordable note taking.

  2. Dave Ransley says:

    With it’s ability to work with VoiceOver on many Apple platforms, Refreshabraille will open more opportunities than note taking. Surely mobility, office and heaps more software will be extremely available. Keep your computer in your pocket or case and interface with it by using just the Refreshabraille. I think APH may have shot themselves in the foot when it comes to the Braille Plus, an IPhone will do most everything the Braille Plus will do and is way cheaper.

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