Scribble lines with colorful crayons and chalk on a black background.

Writing with a braille display: Scribbling part 2

Using a braille display for scribbling activities to build braille skills.

The first post in this series, Writing and editing with an iPad and braille display: Intro part 1, introduced the blinking cursor, how the iPad reacts when inputting braille letters and how to edit with a refreshable braille display. This post will focus on scribbling (precursor to writing letters) and the benefits of a refreshable braille display.


Scribbling with a crayon, marker or pencil is a precursor to writing letters. Students learn how to hold a writing tool and learn how to draw lines, circles and other shapes that eventually progress to letter writing. Students are also building fine motor skills necessary for writing letters and words. Just like kids with vision who scribble, emerging braille kids need opportunities to scribble using a Perkins Braille Writer and with a refreshable braille display. Braille scribbling is a precursor to writing braille letters and words. Students learn how to position their fingers on the Perkins-style keys and learn how to press different keys to create different raised dots and how to press various combinations of keys. Students are building muscle strength, isolated finger movements and muscle memory necessary for writing letters and words.

As a student progresses with scribbling, whether on a braille writer or a refreshable braille display, the student learns to associate the braille key with the position of the related braille dot in a braille cell. Associating the braille dot with the correct input key is a critical concept for braille reading and writing and can be confusing due to reading and writing having different layouts. A braille cell (reading layout) is a 2×3 array while a Perkins-style keyboard (writing layout) is 6 keys in a single row.

Image: Braille cell

Braille cell labeled with dots 1-6.

Image: Perkins Braille Writer

Perkins Braille Writer

The 6 braille keys on a Perkins Brailler are associated with dots 3, 2, 1, space bar, 4, 5, 6. 

The 8 braille keys on a refreshable braille display are 7, 3, 2, 1, 4, 5, 6, 8 with keys 7 (backspace) and 8 (Enter). The space bar is typically below the 8 keys.

Image: Braille display (20 cell)

Brailliant 20-cell braille display

Benefits of using a refreshable braille display 

There are many benefits of pairing a braille display with an iPad versus using a Perkins Braille Writer for emerging braille readers. 


Scribbling activities

Scribbling can be done with both a Perkins Braille Writer and with a braille display paired with an iPad. With the braille display, open a new document in either the Pages app or Notes. Both are free, native Apple apps that work well with a braille display.

In order for each letter to be announced as the student scribbles, go to Settings > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Typing > Typing Feedback > under Hardware keyboards, select Characters and Words

VoiceOver must be on for the braille display to work with the iPad.

Note: The following activities are a progression of activities; unless the student is already familiar with writing (or reading) braille letters, these activities should be introduced over a period of time. For most young students, simply scribbling for months is age appropriate. 

Initially, simply allow the student to explore and play with the keys on the braille display. The only requirement is to have a gentle touch. Model how to press the keys and listen to VoiceOver announcing the letter that was created. Keep in mind that young students have very short attention spans! Step back and let the student play and enjoy the cause and effect of pressing keys. Exploring is pure joy!

If the student is ready for a more structured approach, interact with the student to introduce finger positions, to explore the raised dots, etc. while still providing opportunities for the student to independently explore and play.

Scribbling allows the student to lead the activity. While it can eventually lead into you calling out key numbers to press, the assumption is that the student does not yet know the dot numbers in letters and is not yet identifying braille letters. For many students, scribbling will provide incidental learning – pressing a dot combination and hearing VoiceOver announcing the letter may click, helping the student learn specific letters!


Resources in this series


By Diane Brauner

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