Getting the most out of your Apple Mobile or Desktop Device using VoiceOver with Braille

This guide looks at the support given by Apple for their mobile and desktop devices in relation to the use of Braille. Topics covered include: what Apple products support the use of Braille, what Braille devices are supported, how to install and use Braille displays, similarities between the mobile and desktop systems, tips for getting the most out of using Braille, suggested apps to get started, and mobile and desktop gestures and Braille keyboard commands.Apple’s product line covers both mobile devices (iPhone, iPod touch and iPad), and desktop devices (MacBook air, MacBook Pro, iMac etc.) Both can be used by Bluetooth Braille display or Braille note taking devices via VoiceOver, the built-in screen reader.  However, as iDevices do not support USB connectivity, this also means that connecting a Braille display via USB is not possible.It should be noted that out of all of the iOS devices, the iPhone is the only device that vibrates. This may be of use to people who cannot hear the various audio alerts.  For example - vibrate on ring, vibrate on message received, vibrate alarm, personal custom vibrations for specific contacts, etc.In addition, the amount of work that has gone in to developing VoiceOver on iOS, really does mean you can use the iPhone, iPod touch or iPad pretty much completely from a supported Braille device with a keyboard. To some extent, Braille support on iOS out does Braille support on the Mac, but a user usually has access to a keyboard to give the Mac instructions besides the Braille device.Using VoiceOver on OS X and iOS is very similar, particularly as both systems share common VoiceOver gestures, Braille keyboard commands, and VoiceOver Bluetooth QWERTY keyboard commands.  On a MacBook air or MacBook Pro, the keyboard is built-in as well as the trackpad.  On an iMac, the keyboard is usually a Bluetooth keyboard with a Bluetooth Magic trackpad.  On iOS, the trackpad is actually the touch screen, and the external keyboard being Bluetooth.The similarity between VoiceOver on OS X and iOS, allows easy transition between the desktop and mobile systems. In addition, many of the apps or applications are shared between both. For example: Messages, Notes, Calendar, Contacts, Reminders, Maps, Safari, etc.In iOS, it is a good idea to have VoiceOver setup via the Accessibility Shortcut (Settings, General, Accessibility, Accessibility Shortcut, VoiceOver) so that VoiceOver can be toggled on or off at need: i.e. in those cases where the device is going to be used by a non VoiceOver user. When this shortcut is set, pressing the Home button three times will toggle VoiceOver on or off.In OS X, VoiceOver can be toggled on or off via the shortcut key Command+F5 as needed: i.e. in those cases where the device is going to be used by a non VoiceOver user.When VoiceOver is toggled on in either OS X or iOS, the connected Braille device will reconnect automatically.However, particularly with iDevices, this is not always the case. If this happens, simply lock the screen of the device while the display is in terminal for screen reader mode, and then press the home button again. This should reconnect the 2 devices.”When the screen is locked on iOS, pressing the Power or Home button will bring up the unlock screen and VoiceOver will reconnect (if running) to the Braille device. If the Mac is in stand by, pressing any key on the keyboard or opening the lid on a MacBook will bring the Mac screen up and VoiceOver will reconnect to the Braille display (again, if on).More than 40 Braille devices are supported on both iOS and OS X systems. No need for 3rd party drivers to be installed, it works right out of the box. OS X supports USB and Bluetooth Braille devices, whilst iOS only supports Bluetooth Braille devices.Note that you can pair a braille display without having VoiceOver enabled, but you cannot use the braille display without VoiceOver being turned on. Before starting the below process, be sure that your device is in terminal for screen reader, or discoverable mode.

  1. Go to Settings >Bluetooth and make sure Bluetooth is switched on. If it is off, double tap (single tap without VoiceOver) to turn it on.
  2. Double tap (single tap without VoiceOver) the back button to move back to settings, and then scroll to General and double tap (single tap without VoiceOver). Next,  scroll to and activate Accessibility.
  3. Scroll to and double tap (Single tap without VoiceOver) on the “VoiceOver” button to open the VoiceOver settings dialog.
  4. Scroll to the “Braille” option and double tap (Single tap without Voiceover) to open the Braille settings dialog.
  5. The iDevice should start searching for a braille display. Then, scroll one item past ”Choose Braille device.” This will say “Searching.” Once the display has been discovered, the name of the braille display will show here.
  6. Once the braille display is found, select the braille display’s name. This will launch the pairing dialog. On the phone type the pairing code and select the Done button in the top right corner to establish the connection. Note that the Brailliant BI displays do not require a pin code. For all other models, please consult the user documentation for the specific authentication code for that device. Also note that this process cannot be completed independently by an individual who does not have enough sight to see the screen or enough hearing to understand the speech output of VoiceOver.

Connection tips: Once the braille display has been paired and if you wish to use Braille with the iDevice, turn the braille display on prior to bringing the iDevice out of standby and braille will automatically be connected.  Lock the iDevice before turning off the braille display to allow for a more reliable auto-connection the next time you wish to use braille with the iDevice.To set up Braille on OS X: Launch the VoiceOver Utility by pressing and holding the control and options keys and then pressing f8. Alternatively, you can get to the VoiceOver utility through the Universal Access menu., once in the VVoiceOver Utility, navigate to Braille. VoiceOver on OS X will auto detect a USB Braille display and no set up is required if you wish to use the default Braille settings. That said, you will need to use the Braille category in Voice Utility to Add a Bluetooth Braille display. Bluetooth in System Preferences will also need to be on. Make sure your Braille device is turned on with Bluetooth enabled, and if using a Braille Notetaker, in terminal mode with Bluetooth or USB connection depending on how you are connecting.In both the Braille settings screen on OS X and iOS, you can adjust various Braille settings.Similar Braille settings on both iOS and OS X include:

  • Unified English Braille translation table, 
  • Toggle contracted Braille, 
  • Show 8 dot Braille,
  • Use automatic Braille translation, and
  • Toggle status cells.

Specific iOS Braille settings include:

  • Show onscreen keyboard, and
  • Equations use Nemeth code.

Specific OS X Braille support includes:

  • Use dot 7 and 8 to indicate cursor, and
  • Display alert messages (how long messages stay on the Braille display).

Both OS X and iOS allow Braille keyboard navigation, and on those devices which have a Braille or QWERTY input keyboard, the entering of Braille or text as well.VoiceOver keyboard help can be used to explore the keys on the Braille display or the short-cut keys with Braille or QWERTY keyboards.On iOS, if you have a Braille display with no keyboard: perform a 4 finger double tap on the screen to bring up VoiceOver help, press the buttons on the Braille display to learn their function or practise VoiceOver gestures, and to escape help press the Home button at the bottom of the screen on your iOS device.On OS X, if you have a Braille display with no keyboard: use the VoiceOver command Control+Option+K (Control+Option normally written as VO) to bring up VoiceOver help, press the buttons on the Braille display to learn their function or practise VoiceOver gestures if you are using a trackpad, and to escape help press the Escape key at the top left row of your Mac keyboard. Note - you will need to turn on the VoiceOver Trackpad commander to use the VoiceOver gestures on the trackpad. To do this, simply hold down the VO keys (Control+Option) and do a two finger clockwise rotate on the trackpad. If you want to turn the VoiceOver Trackpad Commander off: VO plus two finger counter clockwise rotate.If your Braille device does have a Braille input keyboard, on either OS X or iOS, press Space+k to bring up VoiceOver help, press the buttons on the Braille display or perform VoiceOver keyboard commands with the Spacebar with other keys to learn their function or practise VoiceOver gestures on the touch screen of iOS or the trackpad on the Mac, and to escape VoiceOver help press Space+b. Note that for iOS 7 specifically, if the individual doing this exploration can only use Braille, the message indicating what each function does will flash up very quickly. With iOS 7, particularly in the VoiceOver help mode, what happens is that the message will display, and then the Braille display will go back to showing whatever was last on the display before entering help mode. Turning on speech, even if it’s not necessary for a deaf-blind user can help, but you can also press space with the letter N to have the last thing sent to the Braille display show up again. Press space with N again to exit this mode.You can use other Bluetooth devices (particularly with iOS) when you are using your Braille device. For example: if your Braille device has no keyboard, you can pair a Bluetooth QWERTY keyboard for use by VoiceOver and iOS itself, which will give you navigation and keyboard input as well.To pair a Bluetooth QWERTY keyboard, Settings, Bluetooth, (make sure Bluetooth is on), choose your keyboard, and enter the pin on the keyboard to pair. Make sure your Bluetooth keyboard is on, and if necessary, in paring mode.Some of the overall VoiceOver screen reader controls are also shared by iOS and OS X (particularly if you are using a Braille Notetaker keyboard or Bluetooth QWERTY keyboard) which include:

  • Navigating and activating items,
  • the VoiceOver rotor, and
  • VoiceOver Quick Nav.

The basic VoiceOver gestures, Braille Notetaker, and VoiceOver Bluetooth keyboard commands are:iOS gestures  1 finger flick left or right - move to the previous or next item,1 finger double tap - activate item, andWhen in an application, press the Home button to return to the Home screen.Braille Note Taking Keyboard CommandsDot 1 plus Spacebar or Dot 4 plus Spacebar - move to the previous or next item,Dot 36 plus Spacebar - activate item, andWhen in an application, press dot 125 plus Spacebar to activate the Home button to return to the Home screen.On a Braille display without a keyboard, there are usually buttons on the device to move VoiceOver around the iOS or Mac screen. In addition, the auto-cursoring buttons above the actual Braille display on most Braille devices is used to activate the current item.On OS X, when you are using a Braille display, the Braille Caption Panel shows in text what is on the Braille display in the VoiceOver focus, handy for sighted folks to see what is being read on the Braille display. The Braille Caption Panel can be toggled on or off by VO+Command+F9 (if your function keys are still set to hardware, just ad the FN key to this command).If you want to mute the speech of VoiceOver: 3 finger double tap on iOS or Mac (trackpad), Spacebar +M on a Braille keyboard or VO+M on an iOS Bluetooth QWERTY connected keyboard. The easiest way to mute any sound on OS X is to press the mute function key toggle F10 (if your function keys are set to hardware, you can just press the key by itself).A really great command for VoiceOver is to blank the screen (called screen curtain) on your Mac or iOS device so that you have complete privacy and no one can see the contents of your screen. The easiest way to do this on iOS and OS X is to do a 3 finger triple tap on the screen (trackpad) which will toggle the screen curtain on or off. The Mac VoiceOver keyboard command is VO+Shift+F11 (remember about the FN key). The Braille keyboard input command is space with dots 1-2-3-4-5-6.If you want to learn how to use VoiceOver on the Mac, run the VoiceOver quick Start Tutorial with VO+Command+F8 (again, remember about the FN key).VoiceOver on iOS has no built-in tutorial, but the VO Getting Started app is a great place to start. You will need to download this from the iOS App Store on your iOS device or from iTunes on your Mac.The VoiceOver Keyboard Commander on the Mac (toggled on or off with VO+Shift+K), makes it easy to run applications by just pressing two keys: the Right Option key plus another key. By default, VoiceOver Keyboard Commander will run Option+S for Safari (web browser), Option+M for Mail, and Option+T for time. Other keyboard commands can be added in VoiceOver Utility, Commanders, Keyboard.A very useful function in Safari on the Mac is to use the toggle Reader (Command+R) keyboard short-cut when reading an article on a webpage. When you use this command to turn Reader on, it strips all of the HTML code (web links etc.) out of the page and just leaves the text of the article on the screen: making it a lot easier to read the article with Braille.This function is also available on iOS Safari. You will find the Reader control at the top of the screen on any web page that contains an article and Safari has enabled the Reader function. Jump to the top of the page and you will land on the Reader button, activate this, and read without any distractions.The word suggestion list when you are typing with a Bluetooth QWERTY keyboard in to a document in Textedit on the Mac is great when you don’t know how to complete a word. Just write part of the word, press Escape, arrow through the list of suggested words, and press return to accept a choice or Escape again to exit.Whilst the Mac spell checks your typing throughout the whole operating system, VoiceOver announces that a word has been misspelled, but this is not actually shown on the Braille display. On the Bluetooth QWERTY keyboard, you can use the built-in spell checker, Command+; (semicolon) to go to the next misspelled word or the VoiceOver command VO+Command+E.A command to quickly find text on the screen for both Mac and if you are using an iOS Bluetooth QWERTY keyboard (I have not been able to find a similar command on a Braille Notetaker keyboard on iOS), is VO+F, type in the text to find, and press Return. If the first item is not the correct item, press VO+G to continue the search to the next item or VO+Shift+G to go back to the previous item. This saves the use of having to gesture or keyboard around the screen to find a particular item. With the Mac, the Braille keyboard command is space with the letter f (dots 1-2-4).If you just want a quick list of what is on the screen in iOS or Mac to go through in alphabetical order and choose which item you want to move to, use the Item Chooser:Mac keyboard - VO+I,iOS VoiceOver gesture - 2 finger triple tap,iOS Bluetooth keyboard - VO+I, andiOS Braille Notetaker - Spacebar plus dot 24 (i).The item chooser on the Mac you may find of limited use as it does bring up far too many items.The VoiceOver rotor is very useful when navigating a webpage by headings or links.  The rotor is always on in iOS, and as previously stated, turned on via VO+two finger clockwise rotate on the Mac trackpad. Items on the rotor will change depending on what app or application is being used. When Safari is used on either the Mac or iOS, you can do a two finger rotate around to various web elements that you can quickly move to the next or previous element. For example, you can do a two finger rotate around to Heading, then do a one finger flick down to move to the next heading or a one finger flick up to move to the previous heading. With iOS, you can move to the previous rotor item by using space with dot 3, and to the next item by using space with dot 6. Unfortunately, with the Mac on Safari, this command does not work for Braille displays.Quick Nav on Bluetooth keyboards basically allows you to use the cursor keys on a QWERTY keyboard (left, right, up and down arrows) to replace VO+XX keyboard commands. To toggle VoiceOver Quick Nav on or off press the Left and Right Arrow keys together. Once on, you can perform such actions as:Right Arrow instead of VO+Right Arrow move to next item,Left Arrow instead of VO+Left Arrow move to previous item, andUp and Down Arrow together instead of pressing VO+Spacebar to activate an item.When using the iPhone with a Bluetooth Braille display, the incoming phone number or the contact name (if the number is in your contacts list) will show up on the Braille display. Two finger double tap on the screen to answer the call, and two finger double tap again to hang up.Turning off auto lock on your iOS device will stop the screen locking every 1 minute and prevent you having to wait for VoiceOver to reconnect to the Braille display when you access the unlock screen by either pressing the Power or Home button.  To turn off auto-lock, go to Setting, General, Auto-Lock, and choose Never. You can then lock the screen with the Power button when you want to.In the Braille settings screen in VoiceOver on iOS, you can choose to have the on-screen keyboard shown at the same time which will give you yet another keyboard option depending on what you are doing. You can also toggle this within any text field by pressing the eject key on a Bluetooth keyboard, or by pressing space with dots 1-4-6 on a connected Braille display.When Brailling in on iOS and OS X with contracted Braille turned on, you may want to consider turning off automatic Braille translation. Otherwise, if you start to Braille a word that starts with a contracted character (such as b for but), when you try and Braille the word bus and you pause after the b, you will get but.Apps to get you startedBelow you will find a list of built-in and installable apps that you can use on iOS and Mac that will work with VoiceOver using a Braille display to get you started.Apps on iOS that work well with VoiceOver Braille include:Native iOS apps,

  • Messages - message other Message users on iOS or Mac,
  • Calendar - keep appointments,
  • Contacts - keep contact information,
  • Notes - keep quick notes,
  • Reminders - set reminders for yourself,
  • Clock - for time, world time, alarm and timer,
  • Weather - check the weather,
  • Maps - Apple Maps GPS good for quickly checking location,
  • Calculator - perform calculations, and
  • Mail, Safari (web browsing) and Pages (word processing needs to be installed as not default iOS app).

App Store apps that work well with VoiceOver Braille include:

  • iBooks - purchase and read iBooks (put here as you still need to get it from the App Store),
  • Kindle - read Kindle books from your iCloud Kindle library,
  • Navigon Mobile Australia - GPS,
  • TweetList - Twitter client,
  • Skype - text other Skype users,
  • Facebook - Facebook client,
  • Newsify - RSS reader,
  • Read2go - read daisy text books,
  • HIMMS Chat - to way face to face communication app, and
  • Money Reader - identifies paper money (flash’s the Braille display each time it reads the value of the note).

Built-in applications on OS X that work well with VoiceOver Braille include:

  • iTunes - sync content between your Mac and iOS device,
  • App Store - purchase Mac apps,
  • Messages - message other Message users on Mac or iOS,
  • Calendar - keep appointments,
  • Contacts - keep contact information,
  • Notes - keep quick notes,
  • Reminders - set reminders for yourself,
  • Calculator - perform calculations,
  • Dictionary - get a meaning of a word, and
  • Mail, Safari (web browsing) and Textedit or Pages (word processing Pages needs to be installed as not default OS X app).

3rd party applications that work well with VoiceOver Braille include:

  • Docuscan Plus - Optical Character Recognition (OCR) for scanning of print documents,
  • Skype - text with other Skype users,
  • Readhear - read daisy text books on the Mac, and
  • YoruFukurou (Night Owl in Japanese) - Twitter client.
  • Note - you can get Money Reader for the Mac which works with the eyesight camera, but it only speaks out the value of the note, it doesn’t get displayed on the Braille display.

Following are the common Braille Notetaker keyboard commands for iOS and Mac OS XVoiceOver Braille Keyboard Commands.Common Braille device commands for iOS VoiceOver navigationWhen using a Braille display with VoiceOver in iOS, your Braille display may support the following commands to help with navigation.You will notice a lot of similarity between these iOS Braille keyboard commands and Mac Braille keyboard commands, but there are a few differences.Consult the manual that came with your Braille Notetaker for more specific commands, specifically for iOS in accessing Control Centre, Notifications Centre, etc.VoiceOver actionDot 1 + Spacebar = Move to previous item Dot 4 + Spacebar = Move to next itemDot 3 + Spacebar = Move to previous item using rotor settingDot 6 + Spacebar = Move to next item using rotor settingDot 23 + Spacebar = Select previous rotor settingDot 5 + Spacebar = Select next rotor settingDot 123 + Spacebar = Move to the first elementDot 456 + Spacebar = Move to the last elementDot 1235 + Spacebar = Read page starting at selected itemDot 2456 + Spacebar = Read page starting at the topDot 125 + Spacebar = Activates the Home buttonDot 234 + Spacebar = Go to the status barDot 345 + Spacebar = Activates the Volume Up buttonDot 126 + Spacebar = Activates the Volume Down buttonDot 12 + Spacebar = Activates the Back button if presentDot 146 + Spacebar = Activates the Eject keyDot 7 + Spacebar = Activates the Delete keyDot 145 + Spacebar = Activates the Delete keyDot 8 + Spacebar = Activates the Return keyDot 15 + Spacebar = Activates the Return keyDot 2345 + Spacebar = Activates the Tab keyDot 123456 + Spacebar = Toggle Screen Curtain on and offDot 1234 + Spacebar = Pause or continue speechDot 134 + Spacebar = Toggle speech on and offDot 34 + Spacebar = Speak page number or rows being displayedDot 3456 + Spacebar = Scroll up one pageDot 1456 + Spacebar = Scroll down one pageDot 246 + Spacebar = Scroll left one pageDot 135 + Spacebar = Scroll right one pageDot 236 + Spacebar = Deselect textDot 256 + Spacebar = Select textDot 236 + Spacebar = Select allDot 1346 + Spacebar = CutDot 14 + Spacebar = CopyDot 1236 + Spacebar = PasteDot 1356 + Spacebar = Undo typingDot 2346 + Spacebar = Redo typingDot 2 + Spacebar = Pan Braille to the leftDot 5 + Spacebar = Pan Braille to the rightDot 1345 + Spacebar = Toggle announcement historyDot 1245 + Spacebar = Switch between contracted and uncontracted BrailleCommon Braille device commands for Mac VoiceOver navigationWhen using a Braille display with VoiceOver in OS X, your Braille display may support the following commands to help with navigation.You will notice a lot of similarity between these OS X Braille keyboard commands and iOS Braille keyboard commands, but there are a few differences.VoiceOver actionDot 1 + Spacebar = Move to previous item Dot 4 + Spacebar = Move to next itemDot 36 + Spacebar = activate itemDot 3 + Spacebar = Move to previous item using rotor settingDot 6 + Spacebar = Move to next item using rotor settingDot 23 + Spacebar = Select previous rotor settingDot 56 + Spacebar = Select next rotor settingDot 123 + Spacebar = Move to the first elementDot 456 + Spacebar = Move to the last elementDot 1235 + Spacebar = Read page starting at selected itemDot 2456 + Spacebar = Read page starting at the topDot 125 + Spacebar = Activates the VoiceOver help menu Dot 234 + Spacebar = Goes to the menuDot 345 + Spacebar = Activates the Volume Up buttonDot 126 + Spacebar = Activates the Volume Down buttonDot 12 + Spacebar = Activates the Escape keyDot 7 + Spacebar = Activates the Delete keyDot 145 + Spacebar = Activates the Delete keyDot 8 + Spacebar = Activates the Return keyDot 15 + Spacebar = Activates the Return keyDot 2345 + Spacebar = Activates the Tab keyDot 123456 + Spacebar = Toggle Screen Curtain on and offDot 1234 + Spacebar = Pause or continue speechDot 134 + Spacebar = Toggle speech on and offDot 34 + Spacebar = Speak page number or rows being displayedDot 1456 + Spacebar = Scroll down one pageDot 246 + Spacebar = Scroll left one pageDot 135 + Spacebar = Scroll right one pageDot 236 + Spacebar = Start interacting with an itemDot 256 + Spacebar = Stop interacting with an itemDot 1345 + Spacebar = Toggle announcement historyDot 24 + Spacebar = Item chooserDot 124 + Spacebar = Find textDot 1245 + Spacebar = Switch between contracted and uncontracted Braille

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