So Many Braille Displays: Which One is Right for My Student? Part Six

In the previous posts (see above) we’ve looked at a variety of braille displays.  In this installment, we are going to take a look at the fifth generation of the Focus Blue series from Freedom Scientific (Vispero).

NOTE: Please see other posts in this series including:

What is the Focus Blue Series of Displays?

The Focus family of braille displays from Freedom Scientific comes in 14, 40, and 80 cell varieties.  As you can imagine, the number in each name indicates the number of braille cells in each display.  Unless otherwise indicated, the content below can be applied to any one of the displays in the series.  

Layout

Top Panel of the Focus Blue Display

  • The area closest to you is the braille display area, which contains the refreshable braille cells.  Above each cell, there is a Cursor Router button.  These are primarily used for making menu selections or when editing. At each end of the display's surface are NAV Rockers used for easy navigation. Positioned above each NAV Rocker is a NAV Mode button which cycles through the different navigation modes.  These keys will be explained in greater detail later.  

Close up view of the Focus Blue with an arrow pointing to the routing buttons above the braille cells with the text, "Cursor Routing Key".

  • Positioned directly above the Cursor Router buttons is a standard Perkins-style keyboard used for braille entry.  For those who may not be familiar, to the left of the dot three key is what is referred to as the Dot Seven, or Backspace Key.  To the right of the dot six key is the Dot Eight or Enter Key.  Additionally, between dots one and four is a Menu button which is used to access the Focus configuration menu as well as display Focus status information during an active connection. 

Top view of the Focus Blue with labels and arrows.

  • On the front edge, directly under and in the center of the display is aspace bar. This key is used not only as a standard space bar, it is also used together with the braille keys when entering commands. 

The Left Panel of the Focus Blue Display

  • On the left side of the display and furthest away from you, is a Micro SD slot which contains a Micro SD card.  
  • The middle item is the Power button.  Hold this button for approximately two seconds to turn the unit on or for approximately three and a half seconds to turn the unit off.  
  • The item closest to you is a micro USB-C port. 

The Front Panel of the Focus Blue Display:

There are several buttons on the front of the Focus Displays, the number and function of which vary by model.  These buttons, from left to right on each unit are as follows:

  • Focus 14: Left Selector button, Left Rocker bar, Left Panning button, Left Shift button, Right Shift button, Right Panning button, Right Rocker bar, and Right Selector button
  • Focus 40: Left Panning button, Left Rocker bar, Left Selector button, Left Shift button, Right Shift button, Right Selector button, Right Rocker bar, and Right Panning button
  • Focus 80: Left Panning button, Left Rocker bar, Left Selector button, two Left Panning rockers, Left Shift button, Right Shift button, two Right Panning rockers, Right Selector button, Right Rocker bar, and Right Panning button

This is an example of the layout of the front panel on a Focus 40 display: 

Close up of the front edge of the Focus Blue with arrows pointing to the buttons and labeled.

 

What do all the Buttons Do?

As you can see, there are a LOT of buttons on the Focus Display.  Here is an overview of what each one does.  Please note that these instructions apply only to using a PC with JAWS.  When using the display with another screen reader or with a mobile device, the buttons may function differently.

  • NAV Rockers: These buttons can navigate by line, sentence, paragraph or pan the display.  They can also be used to navigate in menus and dialogue boxes.  To chooses among these four navigation options, use the corresponding NAV button
  • NAV Button: Use the NAV Button to choose how to navigate text with the NAV Rockers (see above)
  • Panning Buttons: These buttons move you one display width to the left or right.  Please note that each of these models has the panning buttons in a slightly different location depending on the model.
  • Rocker Bar: To move up or down by line, use the rocker button.  You may also use the Rocker Bar in conjunction with the Panning Button to move to the top or end of the line in focus.  Pressing the top of the Rocker Bar with the Panning Button navigates to the beginning of the line while pressing the bottom of the Rocker Bar with the Panning Button navigates to the end of the line in focus.
  • Selector Buttons
  • Panning Rockers: Found only on the Focus 80, these panning rockers function exactly like the panning buttons, only they work like rocker switches.  For example, you can press up on any of them to pan the display forward and down to pan backward.  Given the length of the Focus 80, the extra panning rockers provide another way of moving through braille with more fluidity.  
  • Shift: Not unlike shift keys on a QWERTY keyboard, these keys are used in combination with other buttons on the display to enter commands.  
  • Cursor Routing Buttons: Many displays have cursor routing buttons (or sensors) that are used to navigate the cursor to the specific cell on the display, making editing much easier.  They can also be used in conjunction with other keys on the display to select text or simulate a right mouse click.

Braille Study Mode

A feature that is fairly unique in the Focus series is the inclusion of Braille Study Mode.  When enabled, a user can press the Cursor Routing key above a particular cell and JAWS will say the name of the character in that cell.  If the Cursor Routing key is pressed with the Right or Left Selector button, JAWS will spell the braille word within that cell.  Please note that your display must be connected to a PC for this mode to work.  

You must turn Braille Study Mode on or off within the JAWS settings when connected to a PC.  Braille Study Mode automatically turns off when JAWS is restarted.  Please see the user manual for further details on using Braille Study Mode.  

Menu Items and Menu Navigation

When the status message is visible on the braille display of the Focus Device, you may enter the settings menu by pressing the Menu button. To navigate menus, you may use the Rocker Buttons or Chord and Dots Four and Five to move to the next menu item or Chord with Dots One and Two to move backward.  To enter the settings for the menu item in focus, press Dot Either (Enter) or the Right Shift.  To move among the choices in a particular menu, use the rocker bars and when you have determined which menu item you want to choose, press the Dot Eight or Enter key. Press the Dot Eight or Enter Key again to exit the menu item.  

The following are the options in this menu.

Bluetooth ID

The Bluetooth ID is the name of the braille display you will look for when attempting to pair it with another device.  

Repeat

This setting controls how fast the NAV Rockers on the display repeat when held down for a length of time.  The four settings are off, slow, medium, and fast.  If one full cell is displayed, this setting is turned off. If two full cells are displayed, the slow option is set.  Three full cells indicate a medium speed and four cells indicate that the fast option is selected.  

Reset

This setting is equivalent to “sleep mode” on other displays or devices and allows you to choose how long after the last control has been entered that the display will go to sleep. The options are off, fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, and forty-five minutes.  

Clock

This is where the user can set the clock to the correct time. Please see the manual for directions on how to do this.

Calendar

This setting allows the user to set the display to the correct date.  Please see the manual for instructions on how to do this.  Please note that, despite what the name implies, this is not a fully functioning calendar.

Firmness

The firmness of the braille can be set here.  Options are 25%, 50%, 75%, or 100%.  Please note that if the Focus is being used with a screen reader whose settings control the dot firmness, this will supersede what you had entered in the display’s menu.  

Connections

All active connections are displayed in this area. The user may use this menu item to switch from one connection to another.  For example, if the device is being used as a braille display with a computer and there is a text on a phone, you could quickly switch the connection from the USB to the Bluetoothed phone using this menu item.  For additional details on deleting connections or more specific information related to switching connections, please see the user guide.  

Language 

This submenu allows the user to choose the language of status message, menu navigation, and when working in the Scratchpad. The Rocker bars can be used to select a language from the list of options.  Once the focus is on the user’s preferred language, press Dot Eight to confirm or Chord+Z (Space with Dots One, Three, Five, Six)

Scratchpad

The Focus has a very basic Scratchpad function.  Think of it as a version of Notepad that you’d find on a Windows computer. It allows you to type within it but doesn’t have any advanced editing features such as spell check.  Please see the user manual or a YouTube video (linked in the Resources section at the bottom of this article) for specific information related to this feature.  

Overall Impressions

One thing that this display has going for it is how well it works with the JAWS screen reader.  If the user is familiar with (and has a preference for) this particular screen reader, they will probably really like this product.  The user guide is written for those who use JAWS as their primary screen reader and it does a great job of pointing out the ways that the two can work together to be efficient. And why not, it’s a great marketing strategy by Vispero and very helpful to their loyal client base.

But this is a double-edged sword because if you do not use JAWS as a primary screen reader or do not use the device with a PC, the user guide can be a bit vague.  A good strategy to figure out how the display functions best with the screen reader you are using is to turn on the “learning mode” of the device being used and press buttons and button combinations on the display while listening to what the screen reader says each one does.  

Cursor routing keys, standard on most braille displays, are extremely beneficial and make editing much easier for braille readers. There are other brands of displays (most recent of which is the Orbit) that do not have cursor routing keys. This can make editing challenging, though not impossible.  

Another double-edged sword are the device’s many buttons.  Many tech savvy users who like using devices with various buttons that perform different functions are very impressed with the Focus series.  They like the many options for navigation and interactions that exist.

On the other hand, users that prefer the “minimalist” approach to braille displays (wanting fewer buttons that are more streamlined) are often confused by the Focus displays.  Many young children or older adults in particular can be easily frustrated and overwhelmed.  

Generally, the displays is a great option for JAWS users and those who want to use the display with a computer.  It is a well made and sturdy display as well.  And though it is best practice to demonstrate and allow clients/students to have first hand experience with a few different displays, it is particularly important if one is considering purchasing something in this product line.  

Resources