Getting Started with an iPad and Refreshable Braille Display

(Excerpts from "Using a Refreshable Braille Display with the iPad" manual © 2015 SAS Institute Inc. Cary, NC USA written by Diane Brauner and Ed Summers. Used with Permission.)*

A refreshable braille display is a tactile device that electronically raises and lowers pins in different combinations to display braille characters.  A refreshable braille display (RBD) is wirelessly paired with a computer, tablet or smart phone to provide braille access to text that is being displayed on a screen.

10 Steps to Getting Started with an iPad and RBD

  1. Learn how to use the iPad with VoiceOver gestures
  2. Pair the RBD with the iPad
  3. Select the desired iPad RBD settings
  4. Learn about the RBD’s physical layout, what the various keys/buttons are for
  5. Learn the basic RBD navigation chord commands and practice navigating the Home screen (Chord Commands & Help Mode)
  6. Learn to use the rotor (navigate by characters, words, lines; change the VoiceOver speech rate, etc.)
  7. Learn to use the advance bar/panning keys and cursor routing buttons; learn about the flashing RBD cursor
  8. Learn the RBD editing commands and practice writing skills
  9. Learn and practice the commands to manipulate text (cut, copy, paste, highlight, replace, etc.)
  10. Learn and practice any remaining commands

A refreshable braille display is a powerful braille tool, especially for students who are emerging braille learners.  Electronic braille provides “crisp” braille dots (paper braille tends to be more “mushy”), making it easier for new braille readers or braille readers with physical issues to read braille.  Producing braille (writing) on a refreshable braille display is also easier for many students than producing braille on the traditional Perkins Brailler, as the RBD requires only a light touch.  Pairing the iPad with a RBD provides the option of additional auditory information giving the emerging braille learner immediate feedback about each braille character – or braille word - as it is being typed.  Classroom teachers/family members/peers who do not know braille can read the corresponding text on the iPad screen and the iPad can instantly convert text to braille for the braille student to read – no more waiting for the teacher of the visually impaired to translate materials!  There are also fun educational games and activities that are available on the iPad and are accessible for students using a RBD.  Keep in mind that electronic braille paired with an iPad is one tool in the toolbox just as traditional paper braille is another tool.

Remember, the RBD is beneficial for a diverse group of students - not just academic students who already know braille.  Here is a post of a student being introduced to the iPad and RBD:  Layla: 4 Year Old Learning VoiceOver and Braille video.  Follow Rachel Harris’ blogs on Paths to Technology as Rachel shares information about working with Layla using the iPad and RBD in kindergarten.  Here are two post about a high school student with multiple disabilities who is learning to use the iPad and RBD to read and write simple sight words, Brian: Learning to Read with an iPad and Refreshable Braille Display Video and Brian: Learning to Write with an iPad and Refreshable Braille Display Video.

Learn to how to use the iPad with VoiceOver Gestures

In order to take full advantage of the spatial touch screen, students should first learn how to use the iPad with VoiceOver gestures before being introduced to a refreshable braille display.  See Getting Started with VoiceOver on the iPad post for information about learning to use VoiceOver gestures.

Pair the RBD with the iPad

When pairing the refreshable braille display with the iPad, go to Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Braille.  For details on how to pair a RBD with an iPad, see the Paths to Technology post Tricks to Pairing the APH 18 Refreshabraille with an iPad.  Most types of RBD’s are paired in the same manner.  If you are using a different kind of RBD, check your RBD’s manual or do an Internet search to learn if any additional steps are necessary and to find your RBD’s password.  

APH 18 Refreshabrailles are available through Quota Funds for students in the United States.

Select the desired iPad RBD settings

The iPad has a number of options for students using an RBD.  As always, explore these options and select your desired options before using the RBD.  You should have already selected your desired VoiceOver and accessibility options before using VoiceOver on the iPad.  To see the RBD specific options on the iPad, go to Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Braille.  Then select the desired Braille display output and input (options are six-dot, eight-dot or contracted braille).  Please choose the best options for your student!  For most students, it is recommended to turn the:

  • Status Cell Off
  • Equations use Nemeth Code On
  • Show Onscreen Keyboard Off
  • Turn Pages when Panning On
  • Braille Translation English (Unified); Unified is UEB braille;
  • English (US) is the braille code used in the US prior to January 2016
  • Alert Display Duration 3s


Learn about the RBD’s physical layout, what the various keys/buttons are for

The image below is of the APH 18 Refreshabraille.  If you have different type of RBD, check your RBD’s manual or do an Internet search for information on your specific device.

Refreshable Braille Display with parts labeled

 

Learn the basic RBD navigation chord commands and practice navigating the Home screen (Chord Commands & Help Mode)

Chord Commands are a combination of braille keys and the space bar pressed simultaneously.  There are chord commands that enable users to efficiently navigate and interact with the iPad.

See attached Refreshable Braille Device Commands for a list of commands.  See attached Navigating the Home Screen for step-by-step activities.

For a video that demonstrates using VoiceOver gestures to navigate the Home screen then using RBD commands to navigate the Home screen, go to Navigating Home Screen Gestures & RBD.

 

In order for students to develop good muscle memory, repeat the home screen navigation activity as a review at the beginning of each iPad/RBD lesson.  Encourage the student to quickly initiate the commands.

The iPad has a VoiceOver RBD Help mode that allows you to learn and practice various RBD commands.  While in this mode, VoiceOver will verbally state what RBD commands you pressed and what that command does.  Example:  When you press the “R Chord”, VoiceOver will say, “Dot 1, dot 2, dot 3, dot 5, space bar.  Read page starting at the selected item.”  VoiceOver must be on in order to use the RBD Help Mode.  To access the Help Mode, press K Chord (1 + 3 + space).  To exit the RBD Help mode, use a two-finger scrub, 4 finger double tap or a B Chord.  For a video that demonstrates using the Help mode, go to RBD Help Mode.

 

Students often learn best when learning a few commands and then using these commands to complete a specific task.  Example 1:  Teach the Read All (R Chord) and Pause (P Chord) commands then use those commands to read knock-knock jokes, pausing before each answer.  Make sure the activities are motivating and fun!  Example 2: Teach the student to navigate the Home screen to find and then launch their favorite interactive book app.
 

Learn to use the rotor (navigate by characters, words, lines; change the VoiceOver speech rate, etc.)

You should have selected the options that will appear in your rotor when learning to use the iPad with VoiceOver gestures.  To view these rotor options, go to Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Rotor.  Typical rotor settings for students are:

  • Characters
  • Words
  • Lines
  • Speech Rate
  • Containers
  • Headings
  • Links
  • Form Controls
  • Tables
  • Text Fields
  • Punctuation
  • Typing Mode

Additional rotor options will automatically appear depending on the task at hand.  Example:  When the VoiceOver focus is on a table, the rotor will automatically include Rows, which enables the user to move efficiently through the table format.

To move through the rotor options, press 5 + 6 + space; to reverse through the options 2 + 3 + space.  Example:  To increase the VoiceOver speech rate, press 5 + 6 + space multiple times, stopping on Speech Rate.  Then press 3 + space multiple times to increase the speech rate several times.  For a video on how to use the rotor, go to Changing the Speech Rate with RBD Commands.

 

Go to the home screen and move to the Calendar app. Practice changing the rotor to Character then move character by character as VoiceOver spells out each letter of the day (Example: F-R-I-D-A-Y).  For a video, go to Navigating by Words and Characters with the RBD.

 

 

Learn to use the advance bar/panning keys and cursor routing buttons; learn about the flashing RBD cursor

RBDs have a limited amount of braille characters that can be displayed at one time.  The APH Refreshabraille 18 can display 18 characters at one time; however, most sentences contain more than 18 characters.  To display the next 18 characters, press the right panning button.  To display the last 18 characters, press the left panning button.

When in an editable text field, such as Pages, Notes or when writing an email, you must initially open the text field by double tapping, pushing in the joystick or pressing 3+6+chord.  The visual I-beam will appear on the screen and the flashing cursor will appear on the RBD.  The RBD cursor is split between two braille cells as Dot 8 and Dot 7.  This enables the user to insert a character between the two flashing dots.

When editing, you can quickly move the RBD cursor to the desired location by pressing the cursor routing button.  Locate the desired braille letter on the RBD, then find the routing button directly below and move one routing button to the right.  This is exceptionally helpful when editing.  Example:  If you brailled the word “Appile” instead of “apple”, you would find the routing button directly below the “i” and then move one routing button to the right (under the “l”).  The RBD cursor will now flash Dot 8 under the “i” and Dot 7 (to the right of the “i”.  You can now use the delete command (1 + 4 + 5 + space or D Chord) to delete the “i”.

Learn the RBD editing commands and practice writing skills

Begin by typing easy braille letters, words or sentences depending on the student’s writing level.  Notes is a simple app for beginner writers.  Pages and Google Docs are also good writing apps.  Use the D Chord (1 + 4 + 5 + space) to delete the character to the left of the flashing cursor.   Navigate to the beginning and end of the document using 3 + 6 + space (or push the joystick in). For a video, go to Open a Pages Textfield with the RBD Commands.

 

Learn and practice the commands to manipulate text (cut, copy, paste, highlight, replace, etc.)

See attached document called Commonly Used RBD Commands for Editing.
For a video, go to Pages: Select, Cut, Copy and Paste with RBD Commands.

 

Learn and practice any remaining commands

For a complete guide to all VoiceOver gestures, refreshable braille display commands and Bluetooth keyboard commands, go to Quick Reference Guide for VoiceOver on iOS.  Note:  This guide was written for iOS 7.  The vast majority of the commands are the same; however, a few commands have changed and several commands have been added since iOS 7.

* The Using a Refreshable Braille Display with an iPad manual is available through the corresponding workshop.  For more information about the Using a Refreshable Braille Display with an iPad workshop or for other iPad accessibility workshops by Diane Brauner and Ed Summers, please contact dianebrauner@me.com

Editors Note:  Using a Refreshable Braille Display with an iPad manual is now available on Paths to Technology on the Curriculum page!
 

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