using iphone with a braille display as a notetaker

Braille on Apple Products
Hi everyone, I am new to this site and have a question for those of you who use an iphone with a braille display. My current notetaker, a braillenote, is old and I need to be buying a new notetaker soon. I'm wondering whether I should buy a blindness specific device such as a braillenote or braillesense, or whether I should get an iphone with a refreshable braille display. I'd mostly be using it for work, to take notes while I counsel my patients. I need it to be reliable, fast, and easy to go back and review my notes. Do any of you use it for heavy notetaking especially with braille input? Do you find it annoying that you have to unlock your phone, turn on your braille display and then get to a notes application before you can actually start taking notes? It seems as though this would take a while and would take up valuable time. I know the benefits of using the iphone, but I am really not a fan of the touch screen, so I would be using it primarily with the braille display. What do you all think? Thanks so much.



Submitted by The Pawpower Pack on Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I'm Deafblind and depend on my iPhone and Braille display for everything. You can download a note-taking app like TextWriter to take and save notes. I use an Easy Braille and type mainly using the keyboard. I love not being limited by the out of date hardware and narrowly-developed software of blindness-specific PDAs. It does take longer to awaken the iPhone, but not much. You can also change a setting so it stays on until you shut it off manually. You can remain in one note for as long as you need, and if your phone does shut down, it will be right in that app once you've unlocked the screen. Good luck!

Submitted by Signaltonoise on Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I think that you should use whatever you feel more comfortable with. If you think that a blindness specific note taker would be beneficial than go for it. I use a braille note apex without and with my iPhone. I use the iPhone and braille note apex combination in different situations though. Congratts and I hope you like your new Braille note taker and iPhone.

Submitted by tasharon on Thursday, May 24, 2012

In reply to by The Pawpower Pack

Hi can you create a folder on text writer?

Submitted by Eileen on Thursday, May 24, 2012

I am still fighting the urge to carry my braille lite 2000 with me everywhere. It is so convenient to have a dedicated note taker which works reY well as a note taker. I find it very easy to loose my place inthe edit feld on the iphone. This is not so noticeable in short notes but in a document of more than a page or two it can go beyond inconvenient. Second, I really like the fact that my braille lite is diffcult for someone else !get hold of the information stored in it. I'm assuming that the newer note takers can be disconnected from the intenet if desired, preventing malicious hackers from accessing the data stored in it. While their are secury measures on the iphone, I think encryption software is a must for really sensitive data. Third, a dedicated note taker isn't likely to loose it's accessibility on the next update. Sadly, iphone apps can vary wildly in their usability with a braille display, both from one app to another and from one update to the next. I have a Focus 40 blue. If I had a lot of note taking to do, I would return it and spend the extra money to get a dedicated note taker. Currently I use my laptop for work and mn iphone is just for casual use so the Focus 40 Blue is sufficient. Happy shopping!

Hello, I agree that it can be frustrating to navigate in larger documents. Braille notetakers have specific commands to jump by paragraph, line, word, and character, so moving around is simple. That said, the iPhone is much better than a dedicated notetaker in many ways. My recommendation is the Braille Edge from HIMS. The beauty of this 40-cell display is that it has a notetaker built in (no speech, only braille) so you can take notes on the Edge, then switch to terminal mode to control the iPhone. The Edge can even handle thumb drives and SD cards so you can transfer documents to and from it. The new Perkins display also has notetaking capability, though it is only 14 cells. Something like that would gibve you the best of both worlds and is much cheaper than even an 18-cell notetaker.

Thanks. Yes, they are included, and I recommend you get a display with cursor keys no matter what you decide to do. They are invaluable when editing text or when reading along and finding something you want to double tap. Mostly, though, editing is made easier; instead of rotoring all over and using up/down flicks, you simply touch the cursor key above the area you want to jump to and start editing. Speaking of the rotor, I should mention that speech is always turned on when you change the rotor setting, so avoid the rotor or keep headphones attached when you need the iPhone to stay silent. I am hopeful this will be fixed soon, but until it is, it is something to keep in mind. Note that, though I said iPhone, this applies to any iOS device since, I think, iOS4.3.

Submitted by JT on Saturday, May 26, 2012

I've heard very good reports of this being used with an iPhone. It is a lot cheaper than many of the other displays mentioned so far. At least in the UK that is. I use an ESYS 12 from EuroBraille myself with my iPhone and an very happy with it. But in the spirit of total disclosure, I must add that I sell ESYS displays in the UK. JT

Submitted by mehgcap on Saturday, May 26, 2012

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

In reply to by JT

To my knowledge, though, the Braille Pen series does not include cursor keys. While everyone has their own opinion on this, I feel that these keys are essential in any display I use.

Submitted by Shersey on Saturday, May 26, 2012

In reply to by mehgcap

Cursor keys are extremely important to me. I might look at some of the smaller Refreshabraille or BrailleConnect displays. I don't think I could comfortably have fewer than 18, though. This is a very long time down the road, though, so by the time I save enough money to buy one, things may have changed significantly, so we'll see what I like then.

I didn't know the BraillePen doesn't have Touch Cursers. The ESYS 12 does, plus a range of built-in apps such as a notepad, diary and calculater. Also, it has an SD card slot, so you can load a card up with books and read them on holiday, or take notes and save them to the SD card or move them to your PC. J

Submitted by Holly on Sunday, May 27, 2012

I go to a small school and all they ever buy are Freedom scientific products. I have had a Braille Lite m20, a pack mate omni bx 400, and a focus 40 blue. I also have jaws on my laptop. The braille lite broke numerous times, currently my pack mate is being sent back for repair, and my Focus 40 just broke the other day. I think I'm beginning to see a trend here: Freedom scientific products are not the greatest? For the amount of money they cost, they don't seem to work very well or very long without needing to be fixed. Because of my experences with Freedom Scientific, I too am wondering which route to take. Is it better to have a dedicated notetaker from somewhere other then Freedom, (and which of those are actually worth investing in), or is it better to get a mac with a braille display or use a different braille display with the iPhone then the Focus? I haven't gotten to play with anything else, so any advise would be very much appreciated. Thanks.

My biggest problem with the idea of buying another Braille notetaker is that I am unwilling to bet so much money on the technology I need today remaining the same for perhaps the next four years. Consider one small aspect of technology, wireless connectivity. The PacMate and brailleNote Apex both have WiFi, but not 3G. There is the new BrailleSense U2, that does have 3G, but does it have LTE for those lucky enough to live in the USA? If you get a smaller display, yu can get a new iPad or iPod Touch every year and still have spent less at the end of four years. That'That's what I think anyway, a good display mated to the latest mainstream technology. I'm a huge fan of DropBox on my iPhone and iPad. I'd hate to have to go back to using a device without it.

In my experience braille displays are extremely sensitive to sticky fingers, food splatters as I eat at my desk, soda fizz, and coffee drips that I don't even realize I'm making until one of the dots starts sticking. I make a point of covering my display before eating now to protect the display. I also wash my hands before resuming work because even a littl grease or goo from eating seems to start messing up the display. Another pit fall to watch out for is traveling with electronics in a bag. Other objects can bump and abraid sensitive buttons. Every time the bag is dropped down on to a table top or floor, the thump jars delicate connections inside the electronics causing wear and tear that may not be noticed until the unit fails. I've found Freedom Scientific products to be durable as electronics go. The nice thing is that when the item breaks they make every effort to repair it. Also, Freedom Scientific posts the costs of repairs so I have some idea of the cost of the repair before I make the commitment. Other companies seem intent on making repair costs unnecessarily difficult to identify before making a purchase. That being said my general impression is that Freedom Scientific is only just waking up to the fact that technology has changed out from under them. I can't believe they are still marketing a 5 pound PDA that is as big and heavy as my laptop. sigh

Submitted by Fleet on Monday, May 28, 2012

Hi Ronit,

Do you have to deal with HIPPA compliance?  If so, you may need to ask your IT people what the security requirements are where you work.  If you freelance, just make sure you set up Find My iPhone so you can do a remote wipe in case you lose the phone, and be aware that the risk of hacks rises exponentially when you have an always-on device, and be further aware that although the risk of losing or exposing client data may seem small, you will find yourself in a world of hurt should you happen to lose that particular lottery.  I work in a clinical setting with an Apex, and I do have an iPhone that I pair with it.

That being said, I don't do much serious work on my Apex because the keyboard is horrible and the software is paleolithic.  I may ditch the notetaker next time I buy refreshable Braille.  I do find that there are instances when reading and editing on the iPhone/braille display combination can be annoying: the poster who said that no dedicated keys for moving by paragraph, word, etc. was frustrating had an excellent point.  However, you get some extra commands if you pair with a bluetooth keyboard, and if it doesn't sound too crazy you could get a slimline Braille display plus regular keyboard plus IOS device.  This particularly comes in handy - I think - when you need to use cut/copy/paste, text selection or movement commands in a long document.

I use TrunkNotes to take notes in grad school and at conferences.  Cheap app, dropbox integration, markdown syntax so you can easily create headings, lists, time tamps, etc.  Also iDatabase to create custom databases of whatever.  Clients, if you're feeling lucky on the security front.  Recipes and booklists even if you're not.

Can you afford to invest in a thin, light laptop?  MacBook Air or Acer ZenBook if you are feeling indulgent, maybe a Toshiba Portege if you're not.  If you have something in your go-bag every day that can handle serious word processing, spreadsheets, file management, etc., you will probably be pleased by how well JAWS 13 works with Braille input on late-model Braille displays, and you won't have the limitations of just the iPhone.  Also, having something like that - even a Cheapy netbook - means you'll have the all-important thumb drive or SD slot you need to remove and securely store your data.

Another option for data storage is a Braille display with limited note taking capabilities.  BrailleEdge 40 is the newest of this lot, but they are NOT, I repeat NOT, compatible with IOS at this writing. They're waiting on support from Apple.  As has been mentioned, the Perkins Products Mini and ESYS are other options with built-in note taking.  The BrailleStar 40 is one more, although the storage on that guy is internal flash and the unit is pretty bulky.

Lastly, you could look at an Android device - allegedly there's third-party Braille support from Code Factory now - although I don't think Android is where it needs to be for optimum accessibility yet.  At least Android tablets and handhelds let you plug in external memory and use different types of encryption.  

Hope this helps and best of luck.

Hi I thought the Perkins Products Mini isn't compadable with ios yet. Because when I called they said it not compadable yet. If you more information please let me know, because I am looking to buy a the Perkins Products Mini . thanks you very much

Submitted by Travis Roth on Monday, May 28, 2012

Hi, I just checked out the Perkins Mini webpage, it says there are 16 cells. It does not say what the size of the unit is though? Does anyone know what the dimensions are, length/width/height? I always like to know how "pocketable" a portable braille display really is.

When I say client data goes on an SD, that's actually just assessments and recordings that are done in the lab and moved to a network immediately thereafter. Every day we hear horror stories about some government agency losing flash drives, phones, etc. with sensitive info so I wanted to make clear that anything you carry around or anything that can be carried is a security risk in a clinical setting. So I'm not so sure about how you would best secure the data as a counselor. Best case would be saving everything to a network at the facility where you work so the data can't grow legs and walk out of the secure environment. I've noticed that my physician carries around an iPad and frankly it makes me nervous. Anyone have some insight into how you secure your data if you freelance or work in multiple locations?

Freedom Scientific displays are not the only ones that have problems. In January, I purchased a slightly used BrailleConnect 32, which had been utilized a few times for demonstrations. Some repairs were done, and then I only had it for two months before something happened. The board wasn't working, and certain cells needed to be replaced. Fortunately, State Services for the Blind was able to cover the $1,000 expense. I had also sent in my ac adapter. When I received the unit a few weeks ago, the BrailleConnect was behaving oddly in that it wouldn't completely charge and the battery status would jump (for example, from 80 to 82 percent and then drop further). Sometimes there are two dots that stay up in the last two cells, sometimes one and then when they are all down, eventually, one or two come up again. Charging with USB either depletes the battery entirely or makes a sound as if the unit is being fried. Needless to say, I am not that impressed with Humanware at the moment. However, two BrailleNotes that I had in the past worked decently. Since I'm stuck with the BrailleConnect for a while at least until my loan is paid off, I am hoping that the new ac adapter I receive will keep it stable.

Submitted by Keith Bundy on Thursday, May 31, 2012

My BrailleNote mPower is also getting old, so I decided to try the iPhone with Braille display route instead of investing several thousands of dollars in a note taker that might very well be soon out-of-date. I have used the iPhone and Brailleconnect combination to take notes in meetings, deliver sermons weekly and motivational speeches, and do my fun work as a public address announcer for our local baseball team. All in all, I am pretty happy with this system. My biggest concern, though, is that I have not found a program with a decent Find function on the iPhone. Thus, if I need to find a certain thing in my notes, it is very difficult to do so using the iPhone. (if anyone has a good idea of a program with a good find feature, please let me know.) I have thought of getting a Netbook to use for extensive note taking, but so far have not done this. My other gripe is that, whether using Notesy, PlainText, or Pages, sometimes I will be moved (without apparent rhyme or reason) to somewhere else in my notes and will have to scramble to get back. however, the extra portability and the ability to use mainstream technology have been worth these small glitches.

Submitted by John W. hess on Thursday, May 31, 2012

I've been using an app called phone drive which allows creation of text notes as well as the abillity to create folders and move information around. The developer is quite responsive and helpful. I don't know if everything can be accessed via keyboard but it can be via the touch screen. So far for organization it's the best thing I've found. it does much more too.

Submitted by Scott Davert on Friday, June 1, 2012

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team
While mehgcap recommended the Braille Edge 40 from HIMS, as was already mentioned, this device is not currently compatible with iOS. However, if you're willing to stay on iOS 5.0 until the issue is fixed, I would also say that this is a good option. Along those same lines with regard to compatibility, yes, it's correct that the Perkins displays are not yet compatible. The Refreshabraille 18 does work quite well, it's biggest draw-back is that the way the USB cable plugs in for purposes of charging or connecting to a USB device is rather cumbersome. It was a wonderful idea in theory, but the design is one that doesn't seem to work well in practice. The Focus 40 Blue is about to be refreshed with the smaller Focus 14 and the revamped 40 Blue. I have not tested these yet, but they seem to be promising. The only draw-back to the older Focus 40 Blue seems to be the loud keyboard. It can be disturbing to others around you when you're in a quiet environment. Also, at least with the original Focus 40 Blue, it seems a bit more sensative than other displays in terms of dots sticking, though I would also say that this could be this particular unit itself and am willing to only say that this is my own observation. The other consideration is the Brailliant displays from Humanware. They are compatible with the latest version of iOS, but I have not had a chance to check them out yet. My thought for your specific situation does fall inline with what mehgcap had written. A solution where you have the ability to take quick notes on the fly and then refer to them later, while also having the ability to connect with your iPhone seems to be the best bet. At this time, though, I don't think any of the displays on the market yet fit that bill, without a significant investment of over $5000. With that in mind, I'd say unless it's something you need immediatley, I would hold off on investing in a display at this time and wait for devices like the Braille Edge and Perkins Mini to become compatible.

Submitted by Scott Davert on Friday, June 1, 2012

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team
You also don't need to use the touch screen to move around with rotor functions. Space with dots 2-3 will move you to the previous rotor setting and space with dots 5-6 will move you forward. TO move to the next item, which would be the same as flicking up and down with the touch screen, moving up/down with a joystick, or by using space with dot 3 to go to the previous and space with dot 6 to go to the next item which you currently have set in the rotor. While you can move by whatever the rotor is currently set to without speech being enabled, such as by moving from character to character, when you go to another rotor option, speech will automatically be reenabled. It's a bug as mentioned above, but reminding Apple it's there and lending your voice to the list of users may increase the chances they will fix it. As for a find function, no app and there certainly is no VoiceOver feature for this, but it's among the suggestions I sent Apple for improvements for the next iOS. Again, if it's something you want to see, contact them and put your voice in with the others. Braille users of iDevices are a small group, and we need to continue reminding Apple that we're all here and using their products.

I'm reliably informed that with the latest versions of IOS and the ALVA firmware, IOS works with the audio pak via USB and allows braille entry Et. However, this is still not the case if you connect via bluetooth.

Unless I'm missing something, iOS has no USB support. It supports only bluetooth displays and has no way of connecting to any hard-wired ports.

Submitted by JT on Friday, June 1, 2012

In reply to by mehgcap

What I should have said was that with the latest version of IOS an the latest Alva firmware, the B6x controlers and the feature pack are fully supported - braille input works. The USB thing was for OSX, apparently that only works with USB and not bluetooth yet. That will teach me to be more careful.

Hi, I have a Focus 40 Blue that is about 15 months old now. I have not noticed any issues with the dots. I agree the keyboard is sensitive, and does not have quite enough travel to be comfortable to me. There is an announcement on that new models are forthcoming, so all opinions will have to be reevaluated. For dedicated note taker usage I suspect that a display with built in notetaking capabilities would be the best, for fastest access, and also to preserve the iOS device's battery. That said I'd recommend looking for something with no-frills here, that also connects to other devices such as iOS, so that you are not locked into a platform that isn't updated. I believe the Refreshabraille has this functionality. The EasyLink also does from what I've read. I'm sure there're a few more and more probably on the way. The previous commenter mentioned that this is only in devices of $5000 or more. I am not sure what this was referencing, not these small displays with minimal extra functionality however. The ones I mentioned are all cheaper than that. Now for a closed system with the "traditional" notetaker/all in one, then yes these are more expensive, and in my opinion, not a great investment or value any longer. It is no longer the 1990s.

Hi All, I felt I should jump in here to clarify that the Refreshabraille is not, in fact, a notetaker. It's a very portable and durable display, my only issues with it were the aforementioned USB connection and its restriction to 18 cells. That being said, I'm going to get a Braille Edge in the next few days, which if nothing else will be a great bookreader until it becomes compatible with iOS, which will hopefully not be long in coming.

Submitted by Scott Davert on Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team
My comment regarding the $5000 or more stems from the fact that at this time, the only real device that will allow for quick note taking and that also works with iDevices at this time is the BrailleNote Apex. While it's not the fault of the manufacturers' of the braille displays, what it all boils down to is that these newer displays are not compatible with iOS devices, and we have no idea when they will be. There was nothing in terms of braille that was updated in iOS version 5.1.1, though maybe there is something I missed?

The ESYS displays offer quik notetaking and are available for as little as £1595 for the 12 cell version.

Employers should have a security policy in place. Securing other people's personal information is no joke.  I c't vouch for any information at this link but it does give a lot of good points to consider when  securing your iphone.

Submitted by Eileen on Saturday, September 22, 2012

NFB is reporting the Braille Sense line has support with IOS 6. Only the braille note apex supports bluetooth connectivity with the iphone.

Submitted by TechTVI on Wednesday, November 28, 2012

It was mentioned on this thread that you can't input in braille using an ALVA BC 640 with an iOS device - this is not true. I am a teacher and have a student who uses her ALVA BC 640 with an iPad and it works fine. Someone also mentioned that you cannot access the virtual (on screen) keyboard when your device is paired with the ALVA. This is not true. You can access the virtual keyboard with a 146 cord and navigate the keys using VO. I have done this to access the Dictate key on the virtual keyboard - this key is to the left of the spacebar on the on screen keyboard and easy to find if you do a 456 cord (last item) and then toggle left 3 keys, you land right on it. The only issue, and perhaps this has been resolved, is that we can't input the @ symbol with the ALVA which should be a dot 4 but it does not come up that way. I am not sure if this is still the case since we haven't tried it in a while. Thanks for a great thread! I am researching which braille display to get for one of my students. Thank you for all of the info!

Submitted by John Farina on Friday, December 14, 2012

Hi again folks, For those trying to make the decision concerning use of an iphone with Braille display or blindness specific note-taker, here is another option I am presently learning how to use the Braille plus 18 fro APH. I am learning it so I can teach a young student who will be learning Braille as well as how to use technology un school. My beginning observations of this unit are favorable. I think it offers better options than the previous Braille plus unit did. the keyboard is well designed and types easily. It is based on android so the platform will likely be here to stay. Although the price is similar to other blindness note-taking options if one is in kindergarten to 12th grade the unit is available through a program called Federal quota funds and a Teacher of the visually impaired can order it. Hope that helps even if it is not an ios solution.

Submitted by Scott Davert on Friday, December 14, 2012

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team
I think the Braille Plus is kinda off topic, as this is a note taker that runs on the Android platform, and is not yet compatible with iDevices. It has it's limitations related to Android, but again, it's off topic, so I won't address them here.

Submitted by Eileen on Sunday, March 3, 2013

In reply to by Scott Davert

Accessnote is the closest thing to a dedicated note taker on the IOS platform. It's new. It's buggy. I can finally let go of my Braille Lite 2000. LOL Be sure to read all of the comments on AppleVis and in the store before buying. Happy note taking to all.

Submitted by Aaron Linson on Monday, March 4, 2013

Hi all, I'll jump in here with my thoughts as well. I'm a college student and have a braille note apex which I use a lot. I rarely hook my iPhone into it but when I do I find that everything works. The poster who said that the braille note apex's keys are clunky and the software is out of date couldn't be more wrong. I love the simplicity of keysoft and the way it manages things. I'm learning braille music so the apex is an invaluable tool to me. I also use it for taking notes in classes and using it as a GPS. My problem with using my phone as a GPS on busses and such is my concern for battery life. I'm really looking into using my iPhone as a GPS though. I love my braille note apex and when I need to use it for my iPhone I can. The best part is that I can choose what I want to do with my devices and not have to be tied down to just a braille display. I also use Access Note for note taking on my iPHone when I feel the need too.

Submitted by Rick Fox on Thursday, March 14, 2013

In reply to by TechTVI

I use an Alva BC640 with an iPhone 4S. I have discovered that dot 4 will produce an @ sign if contracted Braille is turned on (chord G). When it's turned off, dot 4 produces the `. This is inconvenient, but there it is. Is there any documentation concerning Apple's implementation of contracted and computer Braille in I/OS VoiceOver? For example, how do you capitalize letters in uncontracted Braille?

Submitted by Duc Anh Minh Nguyen on Sunday, June 4, 2017

Hi all,
I am very pretty interested in this topic and realized that my Braillenote MPower could not work with iPhone because of its old version of Bluetooth. I have an idea if Usb Bluetooth adapter works on BrailleNote MPower and if it makes MPower connect with iPhone.I hope someone has MPower and usb Bluetooth adapter can try my suggestion.
All the best

Submitted by Gary c on Sunday, October 27, 2019

This thread mentions text writer. I can’t find it in the App Store. Has its name changed or has it gone away?

Since my braille lite M 20 died, I am facing the same problem as the writer of this thread. I was considering the focus 40 blue fifth generation. It has a notetaking capability, but I am told that although the files are stored on a microSD card, they are not stored in standard ASCII format, basically dot patterns. (It can output the text to a computer, Or maybe jaws, as keystrokes.) does the braille edge do something strange like that, or does it store it’s text in standard format?


Braille Edge uses full-size SD carcs and stores in standard format. When I had mine, I had it create text files, which I could still type in contracted braille. The Edge translates as it goes.

The concern with it is that the firmware hasn't been updated in several years, and I'm not sure how well the device is supported. The only reason I got rid of mine is that I needed something easier to read with my RSI.