JAWS Topics: Helpful Hint for Bluetooth Pairing a Braille Display

The other day I was helping a student of mine get her Refreshabraille 18 braille display paired up to her computer.  She has used it to pair with her iPhone for a long time, but now we are working on using it for braille input and output access to all things computers, not just the keyboard for inputting information and auditory feedback for output through a screen reader.  However, we seemingly got everything nicely paired up through the computer's main interface and the JAWS screen reader braille settings, yet there was no braille appearing on her display.  We ended up realizing what had gotten wonky in settings, and I wanted to share this with you today.  It is fairly technical but hopefully it will make your initial setups less of a stressful experience if you run into the issue that we did!

So in order to pair the Refreshabraille 18 and any other braille display over bluetooth with a Windows computer to use with JAWS, you need to:

  1. Pair the braille display with the computer, and then
  2. Set the braille display up with your screen reading program (JAWS or NVDA)

We were able to complete step 1 pretty easily. 

  • My student navigated to bluetooth settings using her laptop keyboard and JAWS auditory feedback (you can hit the Windows key and type "Bluetooth" to open up the Bluetooth & other devices window), and then selected the option for "Add Bluetooth or other device." 
  • An "Add a device" window appeared, and before my student selected the "Bluetooth" option, she made sure to have her Refreshabraille 18 turned on and unpaired from her iPhone. 
  • Once the "Bluetooth" option was selected, the Refreshabraille 18 appeared with its unique device number.  Selecting the device, the computer requested a device-specific pin code, which is 1234 for all older model Refreshabraille 18's.  Newer models do not require this pin code. 
  • And just like that, we were paired successfully!

Now we needed to get up and running from within JAWS. 

  • My student navigated to the JAWS window using the Alt + Tab program switcher hotkey, and then she pressed Alt + O to go directly to the Options menu. 
  • She arrowed down to the braille option and selected it with Enter. 
  • In the following Braille Basic Settings window, my student tabbed to the "Add Braille Display" button which opens up a new Window in which she selected the check box for "APH Refreshable Braille Display 18."  After this step, she tabbed to the Next button and selected it. 
  • The following dialog prompted us to select an "output port," which is the method of communication you plan on using.  The default option is USB, for when you connect to your computer using a USB cable.  However, with Bluetooth you will want to select a COM port, or Communication port, which is what the computer uses to "handle" the virtual connection made through bluetooth and pair with the braille display. 
  • We had options for COM 3 and COM 4, so we selected the first port.  After selecting next, we selected the Refreshabraille 18 as our "Primary device" and then selected the Finish button.

At this point, some of you may find yourselves good to go, with braille appearing on your braille display.  However, we were flummoxed to see a blank braille display.  Well, in our situation we had selected the wrong COM port.  So, here's how you choose the right one:

  • We returned to the Braille Basic Settings and selected the Advanced button to open up the advanced options. 
  • Here there is a drop down list for the output port options, and we chose COM 4 instead of COM 3. 
  • After hitting finish, we were prompted to restart JAWS.  After doing so, voila!  The Refreshabraille was displaying the braille we were expecting. 
  • Phew, now on to the learning :)

The following can get somewhat technical, but just in case I've included some steps you can look into if you want to first identify what your braille display's bluetooth COM port is (so as to avoid guessing at initial setup or if you have more than 2 COM ports to choose from).  This can be done from the Devices and Printers settings.

  • In the Devices and Printers window, select your paired braille display and right click (you can tap the applications key as well) to open up its properties
  • Locate its bluetooth tab, and in this tab there is another properties button that can be selected
  • Within that new window you should be able to see the COM port information listed