Chapter 9. Using Braille Displays

This chapter provides information about using refreshable braille displays, both plug in and Bluetooth, with VoiceOver. This chapter includes a list of the braille displays that VoiceOver supports.

About refreshable braille displays

If you connect or pair a supported braille display to your Mac, VoiceOver detects it and sends it information about what’s displayed on the screen. You can connect multiple braille displays to your Mac; each display will mirror the same content at the same time, useful in a classroom setting.

By default, VoiceOver displays uncontracted braille, which you can also display using eight-dot braille. Or you can use contracted braille; if you do, VoiceOver dynamically changes the display under the cursor to uncontracted braille, so that you can read and edit more easily, and then changes back to contracted braille when you move the cursor.

A braille display typically describes the entire line where the VoiceOver cursor is focused. For example, when the VoiceOver cursor is focused on an item in a window, the braille device displays items like icons, checkboxes, and pop-up menus, as well as text to the left and right of the VoiceOver cursor.

If a line is too wide to fit on the braille display, you can “pan” the line using the left and right buttons on the display. Each left or right pan moves according to the number of cells (including status cells) your display contains. When you move the VoiceOver cursor, the braille display pans when necessary to follow it, even wrapping to the previous or next line.

VoiceOver raises dots 7 and 8 to indicate the position of the VoiceOver cursor and, when you edit or select text, the text selection. VoiceOver indicates the position of the text selection cursor, called the “I-beam,” by flashing dot 8 of the braille cell preceding the I-beam and dot 7 of the braille cell trailing it.

VoiceOver uses three status cells to provide additional information about what’s on the screen. You can set the number of status cells that are used and their location on the braille display. For example, you can use the cell that shows text status and set its location to be on the left of your display.

Use VoiceOver Utility to assign VoiceOver commands to keys on your braille display. If your braille display has a Perkins-style keyboard, you can type on it.

Pair a Bluetooth braille display

Before you can use a supported Bluetooth braille display with VoiceOver, you must pair the display with your Mac.

  1. Open VoiceOver Utility (press VO-F8 when VoiceOver is on), click the Braille category, click Displays, then click Add (+).

    VoiceOver lists displays that are within range of your Mac and that appear to match a VoiceOver braille display driver. If your display isn’t shown, make sure you set it to be discoverable. For more information, check the documentation that came with your braille display.

  2. In the list of devices, click Pair for your Bluetooth braille display.

    A common default passcode is used to pair your display. You can pair one Bluetooth braille display at a time.

    • If your display is successfully paired, VoiceOver detects your paired display whenever it’s turned on and within range; if it’s your primary braille display, you can then use it. It remains paired until you remove it from the list of devices.
    • If unsuccessful, click the Option button that appears, then provide the pairing passcode that came with your braille display.
  3. Click Select.

    If the Bluetooth braille display you selected doesn’t work with VoiceOver, it’s likely that its driver doesn’t match a VoiceOver driver. Try pairing and selecting a different Bluetooth braille display.

Use router keys on a braille display

Many braille displays have router keys above the braille cells that you can use to move the cursor. Generally, you press the router key above a particular item in the line of braille to move the VoiceOver cursor or selection to that item.

Pressing a router key over a control moves the VoiceOver cursor to that control. If the VoiceOver cursor is already on that control, pressing the router key performs the control’s default action. For example, to click a button, press the router key to move the VoiceOver cursor to the button, then press the router key again to click the button. You don’t have to touch the computer’s keyboard. Similarly, when you’re reading or navigating text and you press a router key, the VoiceOver cursor moves to that location in text.

You can also press the router key above a status cell to display an expanded braille description of each dot in the cell. To exit the description, press any other router key.

Show status information on a braille display

The cells of a braille display show the content of the line where the VoiceOver cursor is focused. If your braille display has dedicated status cells, VoiceOver can use them to show additional information about the line.

  1. Open VoiceOver Utility (press VO-F8 when VoiceOver is on), click the Braille category, then click Layout.
  2. Select one or more of the checkboxes next to Status Cells.

    If you don’t select any checkboxes, status isn’t shown, and the reading cells are used to show the content of the current line.

To display an expanded braille description of each dot in the cell, press the router key above a status cell. To exit the description, press any other router key.

If your braille display doesn’t have status cells, VoiceOver uses the first one to three cells on the left or right to show status. VoiceOver reserves another cell, which it leaves blank, as a separator between the status cells and the other cells.

Review announcements on a braille display

VoiceOver sends announcements to your braille display about events that aren’t represented visually on the screen, such as when an app in the background needs attention. VoiceOver stores up to 30 announcements in the history, with the most recent one listed first.

To review the announcements, you must set the option to show general display status in the Layout pane of the Braille category in VoiceOver Utility.

When you’re done reviewing announcements, press any router key above the announcement to redisplay the current line.

Assign VoiceOver commands to braille display keys

VoiceOver detects whether your braille display provides input keys and assigns common VoiceOver commands to the keys. For example, VoiceOver might assign the Down command to the D3 key; when you press that key on your braille display, the VoiceOver cursor moves down one line on the screen.

  1. With your braille display connected to or paired with your Mac and with VoiceOver on, open VoiceOver Utility by pressing VO-F8.
  2. Click the Braille category, click Displays, select the braille display you want to assign commands for, then click Assign Commands.
  3. Assign a VoiceOver command to braille display keys.
    • To change the command assigned to keys, navigate to the keys, then choose a command from the pop-up menu.
    • To add new braille keys so you can assign a command to them, click Add (+) to add a row, press Command-B, then within five seconds press the braille keys you want to add. A sound effect counts down the seconds. Then choose the command to assign to the keys from the pop-up menu.

Mirror a braille display

Connect multiple USB braille displays to your Mac and have all of them display the same braille output at the same time. The braille displays can be of different types, models, and sizes.

  1. Connect or pair your Mac with the braille display you want to use to control other braille displays. This display is called the “primary braille display.”
  2. In the Displays pane of the Braille category in VoiceOver Utility, select the braille display, then select the “Primary braille display” checkbox in the display information section.

    To prevent input from other braille displays that are connected to your Mac, choose “Primary braille display” from the “Allow input from” pop-up menu.

  3. Connect additional braille displays to your Mac. These displays will mirror the output from the primary braille display.

Supported braille displays

OS X supports a wide range of USB and Bluetooth braille displays.

Manufacturer

Model

Alva

BC640 (USB and Bluetooth)

BC680 (USB and Bluetooth)

544 Satellite

544 Satellite Traveller

570 Satellite Pro

584 Satellite Pro

American Printing House for the Blind (APH)

Refreshabraille 18 (USB and Bluetooth)

Baum

PocketVario 24 (USB and Bluetooth)

Pronto! 18 (USB and Bluetooth)

Pronto! 40 (USB and Bluetooth)

SuperVario 32 (USB and Bluetooth)

SuperVario 40 (USB and Bluetooth)

SuperVario 64 (USB and Bluetooth)

SuperVario 80 (USB and Bluetooth)

VarioConnect 12, also called Conny 12 (Bluetooth)

Note: VoiceOver identifies this display as HumanWare BrailleConnect 12.

VarioConnect 24 (USB and Bluetooth)

VarioConnect 32 (USB and Bluetooth)

VarioConnect 40 (USB and Bluetooth)

VarioPro 64

VarioPro 80

Deininger

Pegasus 42/4 CR

Pegasus 82/8 CR

Eurobraille

Esys 12 (USB and Bluetooth)

Esys 24 (USB and Bluetooth)

Esys 40 (USB and Bluetooth)

Esys Light 40 (USB and Bluetooth)

Esys 64 (USB and Bluetooth)

Esys 80 (USB and Bluetooth)

Esytime 32 (USB)

Freedom Scientific

Focus 14 Blue (USB and Bluetooth)

Focus 40

Focus 40 Blue (USB and Bluetooth)

Focus 44

Focus 70

Focus 80

Focus 80 Blue (USB and Bluetooth)

Focus 84

PAC Mate 20

PAC Mate 40

PAC Mate BX420 (display only)

PAC Mate BX440 (display only)

PAC Mate QX420 (display only)

PAC Mate QX440 (display only)

HandyTech

Active Braille 40 (USB and Bluetooth)

Basic Braille 40 (USB and Bluetooth)

Basic Braille 48 (USB and Bluetooth)

Basic Braille 64 (USB and Bluetooth)

Braille Star 40 (USB and Bluetooth)

Braille Star 80

Braille Wave (USB and Bluetooth)

Braillino (Bluetooth)

Easy Braille (USB and Bluetooth)

Modular Evolution 64

Modular Evolution 88

Harpo

BraillePen (Bluetooth)

BraillePen 12 (Bluetooth)

HIMS

Braille EDGE 40 (USB and Bluetooth)

Braille Sense OnHand (USB and Bluetooth)

HIMS/GW Micro

BrailleSense (USB and Bluetooth, requiring a Bluetooth module)

BrailleSense Plus (USB and Bluetooth, not requiring a Bluetooth module)

SyncBraille 20

SyncBraille 32

HumanWare

BrailleConnect 12 (Bluetooth)

BrailleConnect 24 (USB and Bluetooth)

BrailleConnect 32 (USB and Bluetooth)

BrailleConnect 40 (USB and Bluetooth)

BrailleNote Apex BT (USB and Bluetooth)

BrailleNote Apex QT (USB and Bluetooth)

Note: VoiceOver supports only the navigation keys on this display.

BrailleNote mPower BT 18 (Bluetooth)

BrailleNote mPower BT 32 (Bluetooth)

BrailleNote PK (Bluetooth)

Note: VoiceOver identifies this display as HumanWare BrailleNote mPower BT 18.

Brailliant 24 (USB and Bluetooth)

Brailliant 32 (USB and Bluetooth)

Brailliant 40 (USB and Bluetooth)

Brailliant 64 (USB and Bluetooth)

Brailliant 80 (USB and Bluetooth)

Brailliant B 80 (USB and Bluetooth)

Brailliant BI 32 (USB and Bluetooth)

Brailliant BI 40 (USB and Bluetooth)

KGS

Braille Memo Pocket (BMPocket) 16 (USB and Bluetooth)

MDV

Lilli

MB408L (Bluetooth)

Ninepoint Systems

Cebra

Ninepoint (Bluetooth)

Novem (USB)

Nippon Telesoft

Mini Seika 8 (USB and Bluetooth)

Mini Seika 16 (USB and Bluetooth)

Seika Version 3

Seika Version 4 (USB and Bluetooth)

Seika v5 (USB and Bluetooth)

Seika 80

Optelec

EasyLink (Bluetooth)

EasyLink 12 (Bluetooth)

Voyager 44

Papenmeier

Braillex EL 40s

Braillex EL 80s

Braillex Trio (USB and Bluetooth)