Using a Braille Display on iOS: an Introduction

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Last edited by Scott Davert on October 8, 2019.

Can I use a braille display with my iOS Device? If so, which models are compatible?

Yes, any iOS Device that runs VoiceOver can support a large variety of Bluetooth braille displays. Common ones include Humanware's Brailliant line, the Focus displays from Vispero, and many other braille devices from Alva, Baum, HIMS, and other companies. Please see Apple's official list of supported braille displays You may also find this page listing common braille commands for iOS to be helpful.

Over thirty models are supported, according to Apple, so chances are that if your display includes Bluetooth connectivity, it will be supported. Please see the link above to ensure that your model is listed. If it is listed, you're in luck!

How do I pair my display with my iOS Device?

This process differs for each display, so I will not answer in detail. Generally, though, the process is quite straightforward. Here are generic instructions:

  • Put your display in "terminal" or "discoverable" mode.
  • On the iOS Device, go to Settings, accessibility, VoiceOver, Braille. If the iOS Device Bluetooth is not on, you will be prompted to turn it on at this point; do so before continuing.
  • After a few seconds, you will see a list of available displays (assuming your display is in the correct mode). Simply choose your display from the list by double tapping it.
  • IN some cases, you will then be prompted to enter a passcode on the iOS Device. This code will differ depending on which display you are using, so check with the documentation or display manufacturer to find the correct code. The manufacturer should also let you know if no pin is required. You will only have a few seconds to enter the code, so be ready with it and be sure you are comfortable typing with the iOS Device's onscreen number pad. Once you have entered the code, double tap the "pair" button, found in the upper right of the screen, just below the status bar. It is also possible to enter the passcode on a Bluetooth keyboard if you have access to one and find that a more comfortable way to enter the passcode.
  • If all went well, there will be a delay of a few seconds and then you will see braille appearing on your display. You can now use the display to read what VoiceOver says and, assuming you have a keyboard on the display, enter text and commands into the iOS Device.

Troubleshooting

If you take too long to enter the passcode, if you fail to pair your display a few times in a row, or if iOS is just in a bad mood, you may run into strange problems. Below are some common challenges and how you can try to overcome them.

  • If you try to enter the passcode three times and are unsuccessful, you will find odd things happening; the iOS Device may not find the display, it may refuse to prompt for the passcode, and so on. To get around this, go back to the main Settings screen and choose Bluetooth (this item is under General in older versions of iOS). Find your display in the list of devices and double tap it. Now find and double tap the "forget device" button. You are now free to try three more times to pair the display.
  • If that does not work and error messages still appear when you try to pair your display, try turning the iOS Device off and back on (this is not the same as locking and unlocking it). Also try resetting your braille display and/or clearing out its saved Bluetooth devices(refer to the device's documentation for help). If both of these do not solve the problem, try resetting network settings. This reset is located under settings>General>Reset. You will have to reenter any Wifi network information you have stored, but it can also sometimes make things work again. The reason that this can make a difference is because both the Bluetooth and Wifi radios on your iOS Device are on the same chip.

What codes and grades of Braille are supported by iOS?

iOS supports contracted braille (U.S., UK, and UEB) for input and output, and Nemeth when displaying equations (see the braille settings to configure these and other options). It also supports eight-dot braille, and the table used for that is based on your language selection. In other words, the language your device is speaking is the same language in which eight dot braille will be handled. In iOS6 or below, you still have language-specific eight-dot braille, but you cannot choose your English braille code, and Nemeth display is not present.

I'm finding that when I write long documents, or when I reply to long threads of email, the cursor often behaves erratically. What can I do?

With iOS 11.2 and later, though contracted braille input has become smarter in that it can translate more like a notetaker, one of the challenges is when editing text. If you have a long thread of emails, for example, one way to overcome this is to write your reply in another application and then press space with 2-3-5-6 to select all, space with C to copy to your clipboard, and then Space with V to paste it into the email message. This also works when composing a long document. Writing a few paragraphs, editing them, and then copying them to your working larger document can give you better results.

I Want TO Use a Shortcut That is not Currently Available on my Braille Display, Can this be Done?

In many cases, yes, as long as you are running iOS 11 or later. Braille users of Mac OS have had the ability to customize Braille keyboard commands for quite some time, and with iOS 11, this is now also an option. You can decide not only what function you would like to be able to carry out from your Braille display, but also what keyboard combination you would like that command to have. If the command you desire is already in use by another function, that’s okay, you can change it to something else. The commands are specific to each Braille display, so if you work with more than one, you will need to set these commands up for each device. Though most Braille displays have a Perkins style keyboard, they also have buttons that make them unique, which is the reason Apple has done it this way. For example, the Braille Edge from HIMS has four rectangular buttons on either side of the spacebar. These can be assigned specific functions, or even Bluetooth keyboard equivalents. The same is true of the Focus displays, which have many controls on the front of the device that can be either assigned, or re-assigned, a specific command. The amount of options available for new commands will vary based on the Braille display’s specific capabilities and programmable buttons. To assign a new command for your Braille display, go to Settings>General>Accessibility>VoiceOver>Braille>the name of your Device>More Info>Braille Commands”. Within this screen, you will find seven categories for configuring new or existing commands. You will also find the option to “Reset All Commands” at the bottom of this screen. There are too many options to list, but I will describe how to add or change a command by example below.

Let's set up a new braille keyboard shortcut for the Command Key on the Bluetooth keyboard. I chose this one since Command gives you access to many other shortcuts not available by default with a braille display. For Example, Command plus N creates a new message, Command plus R will reply to an open message, Command plus Shift plus R will reply to all, etc. When formatting text, Command plus B will bold the selected text, Command plus I will italicize it, Command plus U will underline it, etc. Touchscreen users must use the rotor for these options which involves a lot more steps than the keyboard. Step by step instructions follow:

  1. After navigating to Settings>Accessibility>VoiceOver>Braille>More Info>Braille Commands, activate the “Keyboard” button.

  2. Scroll down to the “Toggle Command” button. Note that there is also a “Command” button without the toggle, but I’ve found that trying to press a letter with this command doesn’t always work, whereas the toggle does.

  3. Navigate to "Assign New Braille Keys", and activate it.

  4. Press a key, or combination of keys, that you wish to be assigned this command. Be sure to either pick something you do not ever use, or a brand new command altogether. For example, on the VarioUltra, I used D4 and D5 pressed together. Though this has already been assigned a command, which will force VoiceOver to translate whatever I've typed, that command already exists with space and dots 4-5.

  5. If the command you have chosen doesn't already have something assigned to it, you will be done with this process. If the Braille keyboard assignment does have a command already associated with that keyboard combination, you will get an alert telling you what the already assigned action is, and asking you if you wish to change it.

  6. Choose "OK" or "Cancel", and the appropriate option will be chosen. You can now press that Braille keyboard combination you have assigned this function, once to toggle the Command key on and once to toggle it off, and perform all of the commands I listed above and many more. For example, to bold a selected block of text, press the Command key toggle, the letter B, and then press the Command key toggle again.

Pressing Dot 8 in a Text Message or Some Other Chat Programs Send my Messages Right Away, is There a Way to Insert a Line Break in These Instances?

There is. Simply add the Option key followed by dot 8. The default braille keyboard combination for this is space with dots 2-7.

Can I Use Siri With a Braille Display Only?

From iOS 11 on, yes. TO set up Siri to work with braille, and not your voice, you must first enable "Type to Siri". Turn this on by going to Settings>Accessibility>Siri>Type to Siri and turn this feature on. Once this is turned on, pressing the side button, or Home button depending on your model of device, you will find a keyboard ready to accept text input instead of Siri listen for your voice. Now, you can type something you would like Siri to do, press dot 8, and Siri will carry out the requested phrase. Note, with iOS 13, you will have to tap near the middle of your screen at this time to read your conversation history with braille, as iOS will not allow you to go to that part of the screen by using navigation commands.

If you would like to set up a command to invoke Siri, you can also do this. Step by step instructions follow:

  1. Head over to Settings>Accessibility>VoiceOver>Braille>More Info (under the device you have connected), and then commands.

  2. Activate the Device button.

  3. scroll down to the Siri button and activate it.

  4. Scroll to "Assign New Braille Keys.

  5. Have a command in mind so that you can immediately press this keyboard combination. For example, Backspace with S. If the command you have chosen doesn't already have something assigned to it, you will be done with this process. If the Braille keyboard assignment does have a command already associated with that keyboard combination, you will get an alert telling you what the already assigned action is, and asking you if you wish to change it.

  6. Choose "OK" or "Cancel", and the appropriate option will be chosen.

Is There a Way to Quickly Switch Languages with Braille?

Yes, though the process for devices running iOS 13 and later differs from iOS 12.4.1 and below. First, here are instructions for setting this up under iOS 13, I will then explain, for users of older iOS devices, how to set this up.

iOS 13 has many different braille tables to choose from. You will first need to add the braille table you wish to use. To add a table, do the following:

  1. navigate to Settings > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Braille > Braille Tables.

  2. After the “edit” button, you will be presented with a list of tables which have already been added to your iOS device. If you have not added any, you will have the one that corresponds to your region settings. If you have not downloaded any other braille tables, this will be followed by an “Add Braille Table” button.

  3. After activating the "add braille table" button, you will be presented with a list of languages. Selecting any of these languages will download the selected braille table for use. You can also type a language in the search box if you would like. Either way, select the desired language.

  4. Selecting the listing of the language under either heading will select that braille table. You are then presented with a System heading, followed by the language, then the Liblouis heading followed by the language again. At this time, it appears that the Liblouis tables still have translation issues, so if you have the language listed under the System heading, I would recommend selecting this. Note that some languages do not have System tables, but only Liblouis.

  5. Now the braille table you just added is available from within iOS anywhere via the VoiceOver Rotor. If this is your first time adding a braille table, you will find a new rotor option called "braille table".

For iOS 12.4.1 and earlier, you will not find this setting under the options for braille. Instead, you will need to set this up under the “speech” options in VoiceOver as described below.

  1. Go to Settings>General>Accessibility>VoiceOver>Speech

  2. Under the “rotor languages” heading, choose “add new language.

  3. Choose the language you wish to be able to switch to from the list of available options.

  4. Once you select a language, you will be returned to the previous screen. If this is the first time you have added a new language to your iOS device, you will find a new rotor option called “Language”. If you already have items in your Language rotor option, the newly added language will appear among the other options. When you switch to the new language, both VoiceOver’s speech and your braille table will switch immediately.

Do you have any other suggestions for users of braille devices on iOS?

There are many tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your braille display and iOS Device. One such guide by David Woodbridge can be found here. There is also a blog post entitled Ten Tips for Braille Users of iOS Devices. if the first set of tips aren't enough, there is a second one as well

This is good info, but which display should I choose?

The choice of a specific braille device is going to depend on your preferences as a user. As such, what I find works well may not be suitable for you. I would recommend checking out the various braille devices in our accessory reviews, for more information.

Can I get this info in an audio form instead?

Sure, I have recorded a podcast which you can listen to by clicking the above link. This podcast covers much of what has been discussed here in written form.

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Disclaimer

The guide on this page has generously been submitted by a member of the AppleVis community. As AppleVis is a community-powered website, we make no guarantee, either express or implied, of the accuracy or completeness of the information contained in this guide.

3 Comments

#1 braille

I never thought that 8 dot braille was useable with iOs.

#2 Very Helpful Info

Thank you for posting this. I've been seriously thinking about getting an iPhone for a number of reasons. In talking things over with my parents, I discovered that there'd be no extra monetary cost if I were to stick with my family plan. My parents and I originally thought that an iPhone might not be a good solution due to my dexterity issues. But upon reading this post and Apple's other resources, I think an iPhone is definitely in my future. Certainly a win-win solution in the works here.

#3 Wonderful Info

This is great. Good to have all the IOS Braille info pulled together. Thanks.