When to Use Braille

Blind person using computer with braille computer display and a computer keyboard. Blindness aid, visual impairment, independent life concept.

Written By Cody Laplante

Cody M. Laplante is a certified Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments located in the capital region of the United States. With a Master’s Degree and Graduate Certificate in Assistive Technology, Cody founded eye.t to provide live and asynchronous training options to children, adults, professionals and parents to ensure that all people with visual impairments can have access to a computer.

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Published on

October 24, 2023

You may have been hearing a lot about the Monarch from APH, Humanware and the NFB. IF you haven’t you really should check it out! If you are a TVI this device will be the one that changes how we teach. 

But, even if you haven’t, you can see that the way we teach blind and low vision students has changed drastically in the last 5 years. When today our students are increasingly asked to be on computers (Windows, Chromebooks or Macs) it can be hard to remember, “hey we still need to be using braille!”

In today’s Tech Tip Tuesday video, we cover what to consider when introducing a braille display (click the button below) and in today’s email, we will be discussing HOW to introduce electronic braille to your student. As we go through these “steps” keep in mind these are generalizations. Every student is different. Think about this process and question “will this be good for my learner?” If you don’t think it will, do what YOU think is best!

Step 1: Teach them a Screen Reader

If you’re wondering “what does a braille display have to do with a screen reader?” My answer is, “well, everything”. At its core, a braille display is just a display. It is meant to be used alongside another device like a computer, phone or tablet. When connected, the screen reader of that device will tell the braille display what to output in braille.

The screen reader is the engine that powers the braille display, so in short, in order to use a braille display, your student needs to know how to use some sort of screen reader. 

That could be a computer screen reader like JAWS, NVDA, Chromevox or VO for Mac, or it could be a mobile screen reader like VoiceOver for iOS or Talkback.

Now, yes, I know many braille displays have really useful applications that you can use without being connected to another device like simple word processors and calculators. These applications ARE really useful but will not substitute the access a user will get from pairing that device to a real computer.

Step 2: Your First Braille Display Lesson

As you begin instruction using a braille display, focus first on READING the braille. The first time I use a braille display with a learner, my goal is for them to realize that the braille on the display matches the audio. With that objective, most learners need NO braille display instruction for the first lesson. 

I’ll say it again, most learners do not need any instruction on the braille display for their first braille display lesson. Assuming they know how to read braille, they will figure it out.

Here is the process: 

  1. Begin your screen reader lesson as usual. It doesn’t matter what you are teaching them but it should be a skill that they will find fairly easy.
  2. Connect the braille display to the computer. Do not say anything to the learner.
  3. Place the braille display in front of the student and start the lesson.

And that’s it. Notice how there is no struggling to get it connected. If it doesn’t work, move on with the lesson as normal and try it another day. 

Step 3: Practice using the screen reader without speech

Once your learner knows that the braille display matches the audio, teach them the “Speech Off” key command for your screen reader (I placed them all below) and try to do a simple, familiar task with the speech off, and only using the braille display.

Why is this important? Well, there will be times when your learner will need to use their screen reader and audio is not an option. Some reasons might be that they are in a crowded area and do not have headphones, or they might need to listen to a teacher and take notes. Using a screen reader with the speech off will be such an important skill as they move into adulthood.

Speech Off Key Commands:

JAWS: JAWS + Space, S



VoiceOver for Mac:

Step 4: Learn Navigation Commands (optional)

And finally, if your learner can use their screen reader with speech off using a display, I guess you can teach them those braille display commands… you know, the ones in the manual. 

When introducing a display, this last step seems to be the one people are fixated on. You know, it comes out in phrases like, “My student knows how to use a Focus 40 but doesn’t know how to use a Mantis”.

My response to that is to remember that the Focus 40 and the Mantis show the same braille when connected to the same screen reader and to remember that braille displays have one primary goal: to display in braille what the screen reader says out loud. Everything else is a bonus. 

Next week, we talk about the Braillenote Touch, and why you might want to think twice before introducing it to a learner.

Have a great week!

P.S.!! Go ahead and watch our Tech Tip Tuesday below, “When to Use a Braille Display” for a deeper understanding on this topic!


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