Braille display for a small kid

I'm looking for a braille display for my 8 year old. Something simple that can he can practice writing with as well as reading. He uses an iPad so it would have to be compatible with that. I've read that Freedom Scientific products tend to be sent in for more repairs and since I don't live in US this would be an issue for me. So I was wondering if anyone has any information about the latest rugged 5th generation of Focus displays.
I was looking into the Smart Beetle as well but since I've had the E-bot (also Hims) for 2 years, which I have issues connecting be it with wifi or USB, I'm thinking of trying something else. Any feedback is much appreciated!


#1 Thoughts

Braille displays, as you probably know, have a lot of components inside them that make them work. There are naturally going to be bad displays from just about any manufacturer, so I would argue that saying that one display manufacturer is worse than another based on that principle alone is invalid. Some displays last for upwards of ten years; others might last for only a few years.

What I think is more important to discuss is what your son thinks of the braille display. He is the one who will be using it, so he should ideally get to see what he prefers. This means that he should feel the different displays, and he should ask himself the following questions.

  • Which dots do I find easiest to read?
    Some braille displays have sharper dots than others. Some have a very distinct metallic feel, while on others this is significantly less noticeable.
  • Which keyboard do I prefer typing on?
    For example, HumanWare displays traditionally have rather loud keyboards, whereas HIMS displays have probably the quietest keyboards of any manufacturer in the industry.

You should also think about things like:

  • Will he be using it predominantly at home or away from home? If he is using it away from home, one with longer battery life may be advantageous.
  • Is there good support for the display in your country? The display will probably need to be fully serviced once a year or so, and you don't want to have to send it too far away for that, not only because of the postage costs, but also because of the time you will have to spend without it. He may also want training in the display, and someone who is qualified in its operation would be better than someone who is just reading the user manual.
  • Here is a link to the Freedom Scientific dealers page. Select Malaysia from the drop-down list and you will see the dealers who sell Freedom Scientific products to customers in Malaysia. (I got your country from your user profile.) It is quite likely that these dealers sell other braille displays as well.

#2 Thanks! This has been very

Thanks! This has been very helpful. I was going mad trying to read all the reviews on displays I could get my hands on that I never thought to consider that he really just needs to try it for himself (smile). Great advice! I will try to have him sample some braille displays and look into the support and training.

#3 A thousand times yes! If you

A thousand times yes! If you have a dealer in your country that would let you try out different displays that is the way to go. You can read reviews and get oppinions from people all day but they're just that... oppinions. One person might love a certain display, but then someone else would tell you to avoid it at all costs because they had a horrible experience. getting your hands on different ones if you can is imo a huge deal since a braille display is such a big investment. I have a 4th gen focus 40 blue. At the time I got it, all my online research told me that a 14 was the best device for me. Then I set up an appointment to go check out different displays since people buying it for me actually thought a bigger display would be better for me since part of why I was getting it was to help with finishing college. Anyway, I played with a Focus 14 and decided the keyboard felt way too cramped and 14 cells was a tiny bit too small for me. I got the 40 based on potential future use with a PC, which hasn't happened yet. In some ways I wish I had the smaller size of the 14 since all I have right now is my iPhone. It's a game of trade offs.

#4 Focus displays

I have had the focus 40 Blue for at least 6 years. It works very well with Apple devices. I have not had any issues with it and it definitely is very rugged. I highly recommend it, but as others have said there are a ton of choices to select from. If you can try any or find a place to demo them first I would say go for it. The only thing I could argue is that it is probably not the slimmest and smallest 40 cell device on the market, but I prefer something that will last verses something that is compact.

#5 Focus Displays

Thanks for replying. I'm glad that your Focus has lasted that long. I read that they were very sensitive from other forums so I was worried. Then I discovered that Freedom Scientific had released the 5th generation with this info from their website..
Ultra-Portable Braille Display - 5th Generation!
The fifth generation of the Focus 14 Blue braille display is more rugged and stronger than ever. We’ve built the housing from aluminum and steel, added bumpers to absorb shock, and physically isolated the Braille cells to create a Braille display to meet the demands of the active user.
If yours is OK then this should be better right?
As for size, anything smaller than his old school Perkins Brailler is welcome. We travel a lot since we are expats and his brailler takes all of his cabin bag allowance and we get checked at security points cause they have no idea what it is. Plus my son's homeschooled so he's not going to be lugging it around daily that much. Now I've got to figure out how and when to get to one as the nearest supplier is a plane ride away unfortunately.

#6 RE: Braille display for a small kid

If the plane ride is going to be inconvenient for any reason, I suggest doing the online research and then choose a device. I believe there should be a small return windows so the child can have a chance to acclimate to the device. Even if a return becomes necessary, it might still be better than managing the flight. That's not to say that, the best way, as others have stated, is to get a hands-on experience, though.

I use the Focus 80-cell model, which doesn't have Bluetooth connectivity so the iPhone doesn't get used with it; however, my experience with this device has been incredible. The braille is very crisp and the buttons have never given me any problems. So despite not having use the Bluetooth models from Freedom Scientific, I still wouldn't hesitate in recommending them to a braille user.

#7 Trade Off

Thanks Brian Giles for your feedback.
Your comment about the trade off has got me thinking, but in my case it's not about size and portability but instead about the number of cells vs costs. The braille displays are very very expensive and we'll be buying it without aid so we hope to use this for as long as possible, but then in terms of cells, the smaller one would mean he'd have to pan after a couple of words or so. Would this be an issue for him I wonder once he has mastered learning braille. On the other hand he's in the beginning stages, as in he can identify all his letters (Hooray!) and read simple words so are fewer cells fine for him? Braille is not his chosen medium. He can read large print but using a video magnifier is tedious (he loses his position on the text easily) and I feel that it puts him off reading because he seems to like reading books that are printed with very large prints that don't require a magnifier. So the question is, should I get him a smaller sized display with fewer cells to brush up his braille reading skills or invest in a 40 cell one with hopes that he will end up liking braille and love reading because of it?

#8 Plane Ride

Thanks for your feedback Roxann. We did go to one shop in another country we were visiting a few months ago (an hour by plane) and tried to sample the smart beetle. We waited for nearly an hour for the technician to get it to work to no avail. Just as we were leaving the technician realised that the unit was a faulty one a customer had sent it for repair. By then we had given up and decided to put it off for later. There were a few other units (limited selection) but they were all so expensive I didn't think to even try the feel of it.
Your suggestion on the return window has definitely added to the list of points I'll be looking into.

#9 Fewer versus more cells

This is a difficult question, and people have very different opinions.

Generally, studies have shown that having more cells on a display is beneficial because there is less of a need for panning (scrolling). Reading rates tend to increase when there are more cells because braille readers do not need to constantly return to the start of the line.

You said that he is being home-schooled, which makes me wonder about how much hardcopy braille he will have access to. As he grows up, he will probably find that he likes having more cells because it is easier when reading large amounts of material, and if he plans on using the display for math, having more cells will definitely be an advantage. His reading speed will likewise increase and he will find that he enjoys reading when he can read with more than just two or three words per line.

If it is within your budget, I would recommend a 32- or 40-cell braille display. When braille is printed on paper, usually between thirty and forty cells are written per line, so having a braille display of this length (preferably forty cells) will be the closest approximation to hardcopy braille.

#10 Re: Fewer versus more cells

Thanks for replying and for the recommendation. I will keep that in mind.
About being homeschooled, he does not have any braille books besides the ones I've brailled myself which took a lot of time and he just completed the Mangold Program which is what I used to teach him braille. The limited supply of braille books is one of the reasons I wanted to get him a braille display. (Btw, we live in the Middle East and the school for the blind here is in Arabic. The international schools did not accept him despite his gadgets - CCTV etc.)
As for math (his favourite subject), we do it on the computer and white board mostly. Using paper is not practical or economical given the size of his writing. I only took a basic course in Braille from Hadley and don't know Nemeth but I figured as long as he got his basic braille covered, he could learn Nemeth later if he needed to. I hope I am right about this.

#11 RE: Fewer versus more cells

I also concur with the above poster on this issue. The more cells the longer he will be satisfied with the device. If he takes to braille reading but only has a small number of cells then a new device will have to be purchased.

Another thought is that, if his vision is continuing to diminish, then he will be forced to leave large print behind anyway. So, if he has a larger cell count on the braille device and continues to lose his vision, then his natural tendency will be to reach for the device anyway.

No matter what equipment a blind person chooses, money tends to always be an issue. My personal opinion is to purchase the absolute best one can at the time and go from there. That's why a forum like this one is quite valuable. This way someone like yourself can formulate the best decision for the situation and then drop some cash on a new device. It's hard to tell where a young person will go as far as devices, but don't sweat it too much. Just make the best decision you can, based on the financial availability, and then make the purchase.

Happy hunting for the perfect braille display. There are lots of them available. My personal preference is the Focus series from Freedom Scientific.

#12 RE: Fewer versus more cells

Thanks again. I agree that this site is very valuable and I am very happy that people take the time to answer my questions. I've also learnt a lot from reading other people's posts.
By the way, I was at Freedom's Scientific's website when your post came in (smile)
The Focus seems interesting and is definitely one I'm considering. The only thing is that it doesn't seem to come with an SD card (please correct me if I'm wrong). Is this a big issue? Just in case pairing is a nightmare I was hoping to have books saved to SD. Another thing is would he be able to access Kindle books using it? Sorry for having more questions...I'm trying not to sweat it but failing miserably!

#13 Some answers

A few posts ago, we were talking about math, and you mentioned Nemeth. I am not sure what country you originate from or are residing in, so you may want to check out this book which lists the braille codes for many countries. Note that this book was published five years ago, so it is possible that information may have changed somewhat. The reason that you should look at this book and then decide what code to teach for math is that, for example, Nemeth and UEB math have almost no similarities whatsoever, and it may take a long time to adjust to a new code, so you should really think in advance, or potentially teach multiple codes at the same time, though I would discourage this as it is likely he--and you--will become very confused.

On another issue, you wanted to know about an SD card. If you want a braille display that also has basic notetaking functionality and allows you to read books from an SD card, I would recommend the Braille Edge 40 from HIMS as HIMS has quite a substantial worldwide presence, and this display is fairly similar in price to stand-alone braille displays like the Focus series. One thing to note, however, is that this device was released in 2012, and as a result, it may be harder to get support on this product as years go by, but I think you will be okay as HIMS arguably has the best customer service in the industry.

Another thing that you should probably keep in mind is the device the braille display is being paired to. If your son is going to be doing schoolwork on the device, I would discourage an iPad as it is much harder to do schoolwork on it with assistive technology than a computer. I would imagine that you have a computer because you talked about an SD card before, which you would likely need a computer to use. Also, if your son were to ever enrol in a school, he would probably need to use a computer anyway. A free yet very good screen for Windows is NVDA, and for macOS, VoiceOver comes pre-installed.

#14 RE: some answers

Hi. Thanks for the link on Math. I always thought Nemeth was what was used for math worldwide. Now I know it's not (smile). About the braille display, I wanted to get him one because his Perkins Brailler is huge and heavy and when we go travelling sometimes for months at a time we leave it behind, so he forgets almost everything he's learnt and I have to start back from square one. After reading about lots of reviews I started forgetting about why I wanted one in the first place. I just need a display that he can keep practicing his braille reading and writing with so he won't forget it and hopefully will get better at. For school he uses his touch screen HP 22 computer which is great cause he doesn't need to use a mouse with it and the screen size is big (definitely recommend it for anyone with low vision). So, after much deliberation, and after taking into account all the suggestions, I've decided to go for the Smart Beetle which is ironic because it was the first display I thought to buy. This is because its the cheapest, available for purchase on Amazon and delivers for free and he's felt the pins before even if it wasn't working (hope that wasn't a sign to not buy it). I decided to not go for a more expensive display because service in my country, i found out today, is non existent and I'd have to mail the device back to the manufacturer so buying an expensive unit would make me very nervous to say the least. This way if it gets spoilt after a couple of years I can just buy a new one (praying that doesn't happen). If my son ever takes to reading braille then I might just invest in a more expensive 40 cell unit (and pray real hard that it works for years).
I wanna say thanks to you and to everyone who answered my question and I also wanna thank Applevis cause you guys rock! Great articles and platform for people like me! (I sound like I just won the Grammy's- smile).

#15 RE: RE: some answers

Based on all of your circumstances listed above, I think you have made a good choice. The nicer displays will still be available in the future anyway. It's nice to see that the industry has created a more "disposable" braille display that will fit your application perfectly. I'm certain that your family situation isn't the only one and that your chosen display works for many others.

#16 Smart Beetle

One thing you may be aware of about the Smart Beetle is that there have been several reports of keys and the rubber feet becoming detached, which may pose a problem for you because of the lack of support in your country. Of course, it is your choice, but it's just something to think about because apart from that, it's a really nice display.

#17 Re:Smart Beetle

Thanks for the heads up. Actually I haven't heard of that before. The device however comes with a two year warranty and if that happens I guess I'll have to pay to ship the item. In terms of price, it was between this and the Focus 14 which has only 1 year warranty, plus as you said Hims has the best customer service in the industry. I just put in the order last night actually, so here goes!