Braille Display Devices

Learn more about braille displays, devices that a screenreader user can sync with a computer, tablet (e.g., iPad), or phone that display tactile braille characters when the screenreader user navigates the screen. Teaching tips included!

What is a Braille Display and What is it Good For?

A braille display is a device that a screenreader user can sync with a computer, tablet (e.g., iPad), or phone that displays tactile braille characters when the screenreader user navigates the screen. A screenreader is software that will read text out loud as a user navigates the screen, either by using keyboard or braille display commands. Popular screenreaders include JAWS (Job Access with Speech) for a PC, NVDA (Non Visual Desktop Access) for a PC, and VoiceOver for Apple computers or iDevices.

Braille displays are different from braille notetakers in that many of them do not offer the ability to be used as stand-alone units. They are designed to be used with mainstream devices. However, some do have on-board notetaking and other features that can be used when not connected to a computer, such as the Brailliant BI X series (20X & 40X) and the Orbit Reader 40. This web resource will focus on braille displays and their uses when connected to a device, rather than braille notetakers. However, it should be noted that some braille notetakers are able to be connected to mainstream devices and used as braille displays.

To support students who are both screenreader users and Braille readers, Braille displays:

  • Provide users with the opportunity to read and edit using braille in addition to or instead of speech
  • Reinforce braille literacy skills
  • Can be helpful for completing assignments that require extensive editing
  • Allow students to use a combination of keyboard and braille display commands to navigate the computer, giving them flexibility in how to approach different tasks
  • Give students the ability to access mainstream technology in their medium

How Do I Decide If a Braille Display Is Right for My Student?

The best way to determine if a braille display is right for your student is to conduct an access (assistive) technology evaluation. The following book provides a thorough overview of access technology as well as how to conduct an evaluation: “Access Technology for Blind and Low Vision Accessibility, 2nd Edition” by Yue-Ting Siu and Ike Presley.

What are the Different Types of Braille Displays?

There are a variety of different braille displays on the market. Some current choices include:

  • Focus 40 Blue 5th Gen by Freedom Scientific
  • Brailliant BI 40 by Humanware
  • QBraille XL by Hims
  • Braille Trail Reader LE by APH
  • Orbit Reader 40 by Orbit Research
  • Chameleon 20 by APH
  • Mantis Q40 by APH

Flip through the gallery below for an image of each.

To connect a braille display, it is best to refer to the user manual that accompanies the braille display. Many displays have an option of either connecting via USB or via bluetooth. It is typically recommended that you charge your braille display before trying to connect it as well as ensure that any necessary software/drivers are downloaded ahead of time.

How do you choose a braille display?

The best way to choose a braille display is to first conduct an access technology evaluation, to help you determine the purpose of the braille display for your student. Some younger students who are new to technology may benefit from using a smaller, less complex display (e.g., Braille Trail Reader LE). Older students who are required to read and edit longer texts may benefit from using a display that has at least 40 cells (e.g., Brailliant BI 40 or Focus 40 Blue 5th Generation).

What are the Different Parts of a Braille Display?

Although each braille display has a unique infrastructure, there are many similarities among braille displays. All braille displays have the following in common:

  • Refreshable braille cells – these cells display braille characters when screenreader users navigate the screen to help the user understand where the computer cursor is; some braille displays have more cells than others (e.g., some displays are smaller and have 14 cells, while larger displays typically have 40 or as many as 80 cells)
  • Cursor routing buttons – these buttons allow a user to move or change the position of the cursor as they desire in order to efficiently complete tasks, especially word processing
  • Perkins-style keyboard used for braille entry, including two extra keys – one to the left of the dot three key that is referred to as the “Dot Seven” or “Backspace” key and one to the right of the dot six key that is the “Dot Eight” or “Enter” key; some braille displays have QWERTY keyboards
  • A spacebar, which is used not only as a standard space bar, but often also used together with the braille keys when entering commands
  • Power button
  • Battery port
  • USB port

Additionally, braille displays have a variety of additional buttons that allow users to scroll through text more easily as well as enter commands straight from the display (rather than using a computer QWERTY keyboard). For the best description of the function of these additional buttons, refer to the user manual that accompanies your chosen braille display.

How do I Teach Students to Use a Braille Display?

When teaching a new device like the braille display, consider the student’s technology goals. Ask yourself:

  • What is the student’s familiarity with technology in general?
  • Is the student already familiar with computer concepts?
  • Will the student have the opportunity to practice using the device regularly?

Physical Components and Underlying Concepts

For most students, a good place to start is to teach the physical components of the braille display, along with some basic concepts about why braille displays are used. Here is a sample lesson plan: Focus 40 Braille Display: Physical Components and Concepts.

Along with teaching the physical components of the braille display, consider instruction in the physical components of a computer, as well as why we use computers, if your student does not already know these concepts. Here is a sample lesson plan: Basic Concepts: Computer Physical Components and Uses.

Commands to Navigate the Computer

While you will be primarily teaching task-based processes and strategies (e.g., how to open a program, how to save written work, how to share a document), there is no way around the fact that students will be learning many commands to navigate the computer. Memorizing commands can be challenging. Consider creating a “cheat sheet” in braille for your student to refer to. Consider “recall” games, such as playing “command bingo,” “command jeopardy,” or having the student teach you.

Braille displays give students the opportunity to use either their keyboard or their braille display to execute key commands. Some students may feel overwhelmed by learning too many commands; consider each student’s needs and decide whether choosing just one set of commands to learn (either braille display or keyboard) would be appropriate for your student. Some students are able to memorize many commands and prefer knowing a combination of braille display and keyboard commands.

Even for students who primarily wish to use the braille display, it is good practice to teach them how to keyboard as well. Familiarity with the keyboard ensures that even if the braille display malfunctions, students will have the ability to complete work. There may also be times when having to carry less equipment is preferable.

Here is an example of the common commands for a Focus 40 braille display used with the JAWS screen reader: List of Commands for JAWS and Focus 40 Braille Display.

Here is an example of the common commands for a Brailliant BI 40 braille display used with the JAWS screen reader: List of Commands for JAWS and Brailliant BI 40 Braille Display.

Scope and Sequence

Each student has different considerations and may be on a different timeline in terms of learning technology. Please consider the following to be a general outline of how you might teach your student to use a computer along with a braille display:

  • Physical parts and concepts of the device (e.g., braille display and computer as well as why we use each)
  • Basic desktop navigation and computer focus (e.g., how to get to areas such as the icons list, start menu, and system tray; and how to move between open programs)
  • Word processing (e.g., open Word and learn to write, read, edit/spellcheck, save, and close documents as well as how to transfer files via flash drive)
    File/folder navigation (e.g., how to find files in and save files to folders in File Explorer)
  • Internet navigation (e.g., what web accessibility means, how to get to a web page and navigate it successfully)
  • Gmail or other email program (e.g., how to compose, read, and reply to emails as well as attach and download files)
  • Learning management system (e.g., Google Education Suite, Canvas)
  • Spreadsheet and presentation tools (e.g., Excel or Sheets; PowerPoint or Slides)

Sample Lesson Plans


It can be challenging to locate web resources pertaining to braille displays. The following is a list of some websites, articles, and YouTube resources that may be helpful for you and your student.




Are you interested in school year Short-Term Programs?

This link will direct you to info about the school year referral and application process. The referral opens every August and is the first step to school year STP admissions.

Take Me to STP