Chapter 10. Using Braille Displays

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

About refreshable braille displays

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

By default, VoiceOver displays uncontracted braille, which you can also display using eight-dot braille. You can also use contracted braille; if you do, VoiceOver dynamically changes the display under the cursor from contracted 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 contains more than just the contents of the VoiceOver cursor. It describes the contents of the entire line on which the VoiceOver cursor is focused, including items to the left and right of the VoiceOver cursor. 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 that is to the left and right of the item in the VoiceOver cursor. This collection of items—the VoiceOver cursor and the items to its left and right on the same horizontal line—make up a “line” of braille.

When you interact with an item in the VoiceOver cursor to get more detail about it, the braille description changes to provide more detail as well. For example, if you move the VoiceOver cursor onto a toolbar, VoiceOver describes only the toolbar on the braille display, because toolbars stretch the entire width of a window. When you interact with the toolbar, the braille display describes each item in the toolbar from left to right.

VoiceOver raises dots 7 and 8 to indicate the position of the VoiceOver cursor, to help you locate it within the line of braille. (You can turn off this feature in VoiceOver Utility.) Similarly, when you’re editing or selecting text, the text selection is represented by dots 7 and 8. VoiceOver also indicates the position of the text selection cursor, called the “I-beam,” by flashing dot 8 of the braille cell preceding the text selection cursor and dot 7 of the braille cell trailing the text selection cursor.

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

VoiceOver detects the type of braille display you’re using and sets default preferences appropriate for that display. Use VoiceOver Utility to assign VoiceOver commands to keys on your braille display. You can use the braille display while listening to VoiceOver speak, or you can mute the speech. 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 your braille display with your computer. You can pair only one Bluetooth braille display at a time. You pair the display only once; it remains paired until you remove it from the list of displays. After your braille display is paired, VoiceOver detects it whenever it’s turned on and within range; if it’s your primary braille display, you can then use it.

  1. When VoiceOver is on, open VoiceOver Utility by pressing VO-F8.
  2. Click the Braille category, click Displays, and then click Add (+).
  3. Select your Bluetooth braille display in the list.

    VoiceOver lists only the Bluetooth braille displays that are within range of your computer and that appear to match a VoiceOver braille display driver.

  4. Click Select.

    You may be asked to provide a pairing passcode (such as 0000 or 1234, two common default codes). Check the documentation that came with your braille display for the passcode.

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

If your Bluetooth braille display isn’t listed, make sure you have set the display to be discoverable. For more information, check the documentation that came with your braille display.

About panning on a braille display

Sometimes a line of braille is too wide to fit on the braille display. You can move through, or “pan,” the line by pressing 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 using the VoiceOver keys, the braille display automatically pans when necessary to follow it, even wrapping to the previous or next line.

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 not already there. 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, you could press the router key to move the VoiceOver cursor to the button and then press the router key again to click the button. You would not have to touch the computer’s keyboard at all. 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 on the screen 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, such as the text attributes.

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

  1. When VoiceOver is on, open VoiceOver Utility by pressing VO-F8.
  2. Click Braille in the category table, and then click Layout.
  3. Select one or more of the checkboxes next to Status Cells.

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

  4. Show general display status: Show information about the direction in which to pan the current line, and about announcements. For example, dots 1 and 2 indicate unread and read announcements, and dots 7 and 8 indicate you can pan the display left or right.

    Show text style: Show common text styles, such as bold or italic font. For example, dots 1 and 2 indicate bold and italic text respectively, and dot 4 indicates the selected text is misspelled.

    Show extended text style: Show less common text styles, such as strikethrough or superscript. For example, dots 1 and 2 indicate text is superscript or subscript respectively, and dot 5 indicates the selected text has a double underline.

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.

Review announcements on a braille display

VoiceOver sends announcements to the braille display about events that aren’t represented visually on the screen. For example, if an application in the background needs attention or if a new window appears onscreen, VoiceOver sends an announcement to the braille display. VoiceOver stores up to 30 announcements in the history, with the most recent one listed first.

If you chose to show general display status on your braille display, you can review announcements.

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. In this way, you can work more efficiently by using the computer keyboard less. 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. You can change the default assignments and add your own.

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

To remove braille keys you added, click Remove (-).

Mirror a braille display

You can connect multiple USB braille displays to your computer and have all of them display the same braille output at the same time. The braille displays can be of different types and models; they don’t need to be the same.

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

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

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

Supported braille displays

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

Note:Bluetooth only, or USB and Bluetooth, displays are indicated in the table. If neither label appears, a display is USB only.




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)


PocketVario 24 (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


Pegasus 42/4 CR

Pegasus 82/8 CR


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)

Freedom Scientific

Focus 40

Focus 40 Blue (USB and Bluetooth)

Focus 44

Focus 70

Focus 80

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)


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


BraillePen (Bluetooth)

BraillePen 12 (Bluetooth)


BrailleSense (USB and Bluetooth, requiring a Bluetooth module)

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

SyncBraille 20

SyncBraille 32


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)



MB408L (Bluetooth)

Ninepoint Systems



Nippon Telesoft

Seika Version 3

Seika Version 4 (USB and Bluetooth)

Seika 80


EasyLink (Bluetooth)

EasyLink 12 (Bluetooth)

Voyager 44


Braillex EL 40s

Braillex EL 80s

Braillex Trio (USB and Bluetooth)