Kindergartener's hands on a braille display.

Writing and editing with an iPad and braille display: Intro part 1

Getting started with writing and editing on a braille display paired with an iPad.

Before writing using a refreshable braille display paired to an iPad (or other device), the student must understand how the braille device works. Start with what the student is familiar with – the Perkins Braille Writer – and discuss the similarities and the differences between the traditional Perkins Braille Writer and a refreshable braille display. When comparing the traditional Perkins Brailler with a braille display, have both devices available so that the student can touch and compare features.

Perkins Braille Writer

The Perkins Brailler has 6 key input and one space bar. The Line Space key is to the left (moves down to the next line) and the Backspace key is on the right. The embossing head moves one space to the right with each key press and is manually returned to the left margin. The other features on the Perkins Brailler have to do with loading or moving the braille paper.

Students can produce Grade I (uncontracted braille), Grade 2 (contracted braille) or a combination of uncontracted and contracted braille.

Refreshable braille display

There are a variety of brands and styles of braille displays. The common features of all braille displays are the braille cells, braille keys, space bar, panning/thumb keys and power button. Most braille displays have routing buttons for navigation purposes, either above or below the braille cells. (It is strongly recommended to obtain a braille display with routing buttons to simplify editing!)

The number of braille cells is typically included in the name of the braille display. Example: The Brailliant BI 20X is a smaller braille display with 20 braille cells while the Brailliant while the Focus 80 Blue has 80 cells.

Braille displays have 8 keys and 8-dot braille cells while the Perkins Brailler has only 6 keys and 6-dot braille cells. The extra keys, dot 7 (far left key) is Backspace command and dot 8 (far right key) is Enter command. Braille displays have at least two additional thumb keys and often have four thumb keys. The left and right thumb keys, often called panning keys, are used to navigate to the next section or previous section of the braille text. If the braille display has four thumb keys, the outside thumb keys are the Previous thumb key (left outside key) and the Next thumb key (right outside key). The thumb keys are typically found on the front edge of the braille display.

Students can use a command to instantly switch between Grade I or Grade 2 braille, but it currently is not possible have a combination of the two at the same time on the braille display. It is all Grade 1 or all Grade 2.

Blinking cursor

The traditional Perkins Braille has braille cells with 6 dots per cell while the braille display has 8 dots per cell. On a braille display, dots 7 and 8 are the blinking cursor.

When you can type on the iPad you are in an editable text field and the iPad screen has a blinking visual I-beam cursor.  The cursor indicates where you currently are in the document. The braille display also has a blinking cursor: Dot 8 in the first cell and dot 7 in the second cell. These 2 dots move rapidly up and down, simulating a “blinking” cursor. The blinking cursor intentionally spans two braille cells; if inserting a letter, the letter will be between the two cells. When deleting a letter, the letter being deleted will be the letter in the cell to the left of the blinking dot 8. 

Typing braille letters

When typing braille letters with a braille display paired to an iPad, the braille letter will immediately appear on the refreshable braille display and will immediately be announced. However, the print letter will not appear on the iPad’s screen until either the space, punctuation symbol or a new line (E Chord, 1 + 5 + space) is typed. The space, punctuation or new line command is necessary due to braille rules for contractions; the software requires all the characters in the word to be typed before the software can back-translate into print. Adding the space, punctuation or new line indicates that you are finished typing that word.

As each braille letter is typed, the letter will be announced. Once the word is completed and after the space, punctuation or new line command is completed, the word will be announced. These announcements provide feedback that the letter and/or word was typed correctly. This is a great way for an emerging reader to learn braille letters and words, even when “scribbling” random dots using the braille display connected to the iPad. It is important that the child learn to listen to these announcements to confirm that the correct dots were used to create the desired letter and to know if the letter or word needs to be edited.

Note: In settings, you can adjust the typing feedback announcements: nothing, characters, words or characters and words. Go to Settings > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Typing > Typing Feedback > Hardware Keyboards and then select your preferred option.

Editing braille

As children learn to write, they also need to learn how to correct their writing errors. Children with vision learn to cross out or erase a mistake. Children who write using traditional braille paper and braille writer, black out the braille cell using multiple full cells (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 ) to overwrite a mistake or they ‘erase’ by rubbing and flattening the raised dots. However, inserting multiple characters within a sentence or making more complex editing with traditional paper braille means re-brailling the entire page.

With paper braille, children do not have the ability to cut, copy, paste, manipulate text or add additional characters later. A refreshable braille display is a game changer, making it possible for children to quickly edit and manipulate text!

Editing with a refreshable braille display

Editing using D Chord

Every writer will make writing errors. This holds true for students who are writing braille using a braille display. The simple way to make corrections is to simply delete the desired characters and then retype them. The braille display uses the D Chord (1 + 4 + 5 + space) to delete the dots in the cell to the left of the blinking cursor. 

Example: The child typed “ran” but the word should be “run”. The dot 8 of the blinking cursor will be under the letter “n”. Make the D Chord to delete the “n”. Make the D Chord again to delete the “a”. Type in “un” then space.

Editing using Router Buttons

The more efficient way to edit the word is to navigate directly to the letter that should be deleted using the router button. Find the router button directly above the desired letter, then move one router button to the right and press it. Dot 8 of the blinking cursor will now be under the desired letter. Use D Chord to delete that letter. Type in the desired letter and listen to the letter announcement. Now navigate to the end of the word using the router button above and one to the right of the last letter in the word and press it. Add a space and listen to the word being announced.

Example: The child typed the word “ran” but the word should be “run”. Press the router button one above and to the right of the letter “a”. Dot 8 of the blinking cursor will now be under the letter “a”. Type the D Chord to delete the “a”. Type “u” and listen to the letter “u” being announced. Press the router button above and one to the right of the letter “n”. Dot 8 of the blinking cursor is now under the letter “n”. Press space to indicate that you are finished editing and listen to the word “run” announcement. The edited word will now appear in print on the iPad screen.

While this might sound like a lot of steps, it is the most efficient way of editing a word within a sentence or passage, as it does not require deleting and retyping all the words in the passage.

Editing with a Braille Display Introduction Part 1 video:


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By Diane Brauner

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