What is Refreshable Braille Anyway?

A refreshable braille device sits atop a table. The black, plastic display shows ten braille cells with white four feature brailled characters.

A refreshable braille device sits atop a table. The black, plastic display shows ten braille cells, of white four feature brailled characters.

What is refreshable braille?

A refreshable braille display is a piece of computer hardware which has a series of refreshable, or fluid, braille cells on its surface. Most displays contain a single line with anywhere from fourteen to eighty braille cells. Instead of small holes in a piece of paper, each braille dot in these cells is represented by a tiny pin which can be raised or lowered. This allows individuals who are blind to read information in braille by running their fingers over the refreshable braille cells and then advancing the display to show the next set of characters.

How does it work?

Just like a computer monitor, braille displays must be given information in order to function. This information can come from a computer running screen reading software, a mobile device such as a smart phone or from text the user enters on the keyboard of the device.

Many individuals who are blind attach a braille display to a computer running a screen reader. Not only does this allow them to quietly read information that appears on screen, it is a great way of proof reading text. This technology combination can also be very helpful for individuals who work with large numbers or work in the financial industry. Most refreshable braille displays also have a Perkins style keyboard, which can be used to control the computer.

Why use a refreshable braille display?

There are some significant advantages of refreshable braille over other braille methods. Hard copy, or paper braille, must be produced in large bulky volumes. Refreshable braille is generated from electronic files. This means a large amount of information can be stored on a small device. For example, in the mid-1970s, a hard copy version of the World Book Encyclopedia was produced in braille. This book was well over one hundred volumes and took up an entire wall of a library. In an electronic version, the same document could be transferred to a storage card which would easily fit in a shirt pocket. When connected to a refreshable braille display, the entire text of the encyclopedia is available.

If you are a braille user and looking for a method to quickly and efficiently access information, you may want to consider refreshable braille. Staff with the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired would be happy to provide instruction on using this tool to help you accomplish your professional or personal goals. To set up a meeting with Jim Denham, Assistive Technology Specialist, call 608-237-8104 or email jdenham@wcblind.org.

 

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