A Guide to Braille Screen Input on iOS

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Before We Begin

Starting in iOS8, you can write braille on your iOS device, similar to apps like MBraille or Braille Touch. The difference is that this is global, available anywhere you have a keyboard. No switching apps and pasting text, you simply use braille instead of the on-screen keyboard. If you prefer to listen, you can hear an audio demonstration of braille input in iOS8 here.

While this new braille input system is a wonderful feature, it does have a few caveats you need to know about. Note that I assume you are already familiar with braille, and the basic VoiceOver gestures of swiping with one or more fingers and double tapping to activate items.

Setting It Up

Enabling Braille Screen Input

When you first set up a new iOS device with iOS8 or later, braille will not be available by default. You can easily enable it, though: open the Settings app, go to General, then Accessibility, then VoiceOver, then Rotor. Find the "Braille screen input" option and double tap to select it (if it is already selected for some reason, simply leave it alone). Once it is selected, you are set to start using braille input.

A Note on Braille Input in the Rotor

In iOS8, moving the Braille Screen Input item around in your rotor will not affect its position, as it always appears to the right of whichever rotor item you are currently on. This makes it quick to switch to so you can starthtyping without needing to move through a bunch of rotor items first; a clockwise rotor movement and you're in braille. In iOS9 and later, this behavior has changed. The position of Braille Screen Input is honored, letting you leave it in one place if you are one who uses it less often and find it gets in the way. Should you prefer to have it "follow you" and always appear to the right of where you are, simply put the item at the very top of your rotor options list

Setting Your Default Code

To choose the default braille table, contracted status, or 8 dot braille (iPad only), follow the below steps. Remember that you can change the code in use with a three-finger swipe right or left while you are using the on-screen braille keyboard; these instructions are to set the code used when you first switch to braille.

  • Open Settings, then go to General, Accessibility, VoiceOver, Braille (note that this is not the Braille option in the rotor)
  • Find the "Braille Screen Input" button, which will have the currently selected code after it. Double tap this button.
  • You are now in a screen where all the available input codes are presented. Choose from "uncontracted 6 dot braille", "uncontracted 8 dot braille" (iPad only), or "contracted braille", then activate the "Back" button.

Now that you've set your default input type, make sure the translation table is correct. I am in the United States, so I can't speak to how this will work in other locales. Here, we have both UEB, U.S. English (what many call Grade II), or UK English for contracted braille tables. The default seems to be UEB, what iOS calls "English (Unified)", which I prefer. Many people don't know UEB, though, and will want to change to a different option. Fortunately, doing so is simple. Note that this will set the braille translation table, which is not changed with the three-finger swipe gesture like contracted/uncontracted braille is. In other words, you can turn contractions on or off at any time, but the table used to interpret your contractions will remain set until you decide to change it by following the below steps.

  • From VoiceOver's braille settings screen (see the previous section on setting your input code), choose "Braille Translation".
  • The resulting screen lists all the available codes for your region. Simply double tap the one you want, and you're done.

Typing Feedback

Setting the amount of feedback you hear while typing braille is done the same way you'd set feedback for on-screen or bluetooth keyboards: select 'Typing Feedback' from VoiceOver's settings and set the options how you prefer. In iOS9 and later, you can set the feedback used specifically for braille screen input; in iOS8, that option is not available, and BSI's feedback will follow whatever you set for software keyboards.

Remember that, as discussed in another section, contracted braille does not honor any character echo settings, only words. In other words, there is no way to get character feedback as you type contracted braille.

Usage

To use the braille keyboard, you must be on the home screen, on some HTML content (such as a webpage), or editing a text field. If any of these is true, turn your rotor to "braille screen input". Your device will switch to landscape mode if it is in portrait, and you can begin.

you will be told the input mode (see below), the type of braille in use (6 dot, 8 dot, or contracted), and the fact that your device is now in landscape mode. If you have VoiceOver set to speak hints, which is the default setting, you are also told which side your Home button is now on and "to calibrate braille dots, place the first three fingers of first your left hand, then your right, on the screen." This calibration step is not necessary--you can begin brailling straight away.

If the iOS device is relatively flat, such as on a table, it will default to "tabletop mode". On an iPhone 6 or smaller, this means that the dots are laid out in a sort of flattened V shape. For the iPhone 6 Plus, and any iPad, all six dots will be side by side. Anyone who has used a Perkins braille writer will find this arrangement very familiar. Also, I have tried this on an iPhone 6 (not the Plus), and could have my fingers almost side by side with no problem. Your milage may vary, though, depending on the size of your hands. The dot arrangement is a much easier straight line on iPads and the iPhone 6 Plus, making those devices very comfortable to type on.

If your device is closer to being on its side, it will be in "screen away mode", with the dots along the two shorter edges of the screen. In this mode, hold your device with your thumbs on top, near the volume buttons, your pinkies on the opposite side, and your hands curved so the other three fingers of each hand rest on the screen, perpendicular to the long edges. It takes some practice, but you will eventually be able to use this mode without muffling the speaker--a definite possibility on the iPhone or iPod Touch--by relying on your fingers to steady your device, not your palms.

One problem some people run into is getting Tabletop Mode into the correct orientation. Often, when it is first activated, the dots are flipped around, with dots 3 and 6 closest to you. To fix this, simply angle your device so it enters Away mode, but be sure the screen is facing toward you, not away from you as though you were going to type on it. Once you hear "Away mode" while the screen is facing you, put the device back into Tabletop Mode and you should find the orientation to now be correct. It may sound like a lot to go through, but it's really a quick rotation toward you and then flat again, and you'll hardly think about it after a while.

In either mode, your index fingers are dots 1 and 4, your middle fingers are 2 and 5, and your ring fingers are 3 and 6. Some people may want to flip the dots as MBraille allows, so 1 and 4 are on the bottom instead of the top. At this time, though, that is not possible.

Here are the gestures you can use while in braille input mode:

  • one-finger swipe right: space
  • one-finger swipe left: delete most recent character (you cannot swipe left and hold to keep deleting)
  • one-finger swipe up/down: access typing suggestions, apps that match what you've typed if on a Home Screen, or move by the HTML element whose first letter you entered (webpages/HTML content only)
  • two-finger swipe left: delete previous word (iOS8.3 or above). Note that, in contracted mode, this erases the last translated word along with anything you've typed but not yet translated; in six dot mode, it erases back to the previous space or new line since there's no translation to worry about.
  • two-finger swipe right: new line
  • two-finger swipe down: immediately translate current word (contracted mode only)
  • two-finger scrub: exit Braille Screen Input mode
  • two-finger rotor left/right: choose another rotor setting, which will exit Braille Screen Input
  • three finger swipe left/right: toggle between contracted and uncontracted (called "six dot") braille (on iPads, eight dot braille is also an option)
  • hold a finger on the screen: enter "explore mode", where you can move a finger around to find the different dots' positions
  • Three-finger swipe up or down: lock or unlock orientation, letting you keep using Tabletop or Away mode no matter the orientation of your device

Finding Apps With Braille

Similar to the handwriting feature introduced in iOS7, you can use braille to search for apps. On any home screen, rotor to braille and begin typing the name of the app you want. As you type, VoiceOver will announce how many matches it has found. To browse them, flick up or down with a finger, then flick right with two fingers--the "enter" gesture--to open an app once you hear it.

Note that the three-finger swipe left or right to change input grade does not work here. As far as I've been able to tell, you are in six-dot entry by default and cannot change that.

Edit Fields

As mentioned, braille input can be used anywhere an on-screen keyboard is present. However, the braille keyboard does not include any editing or selection commands except deleting by character or word, nor does it offer commands to review what you have written. For both of these functions, use the rotor or a two-finger scrub to exit braille input mode, then the normal VoiceOver gestures to review, select, or edit your text.

The suggestions you get as you type are not the same as the suggestions offered by iOS' predictive typing feature. Instead, they are based, as far as I can tell, on common braille mistakes and standard misspellings. For instance, if you type "jug", one suggestion might be "dug", since j and d are one dot different; "tets" would offer a suggestion of "test", because you switched the last two characters.. This is both good and bad: it is nice to be able to quickly select the word you meant if you made a mistake instead of deleting the whole thing, but auto-complete would also be handy so you could fill longer words in faster. Speaking of which, text expansion shortcuts do not work in braille input.

Remember that braille is only one option. There is nothing stopping you from writing something in braille, then switching back to the on-screen keyboard for a while. This may become essential if you want to access Emoji, or if there is a symbol you cannot figure out how to type in braille. It may also prove useful to take advantage of the afore mentioned auto-complete feature--you might find that faster than braille in some instances. The point is that you can use braille alongside, not instead of, on-screen keyboards if you like.

Navigating Web Content

If you are on a webpage, you can use braille input to move around. For example, type an h, and then flick down to move to the next heading, or up to move to the previous one. To exit braille and start reading from where you landed, just rotor left or right, or perform a two-finger scrub. In iOS8.3 and above, once you start editing a text field on a webpage, you can type as normal. In iOS8 through iOS8.2, there was a bug where typing in edit fields on webpages would fail; if you are seeing that problem, please update to the latest iOS version.

Conclusion

This feature works very well overall, aside from the minor issues noted above. Having braille input available anywhere is a truly wonderful addition to iOS; use it for emails, your passcode, passwords, texts, searches… Anywhere you can type text, you can choose to do so in braille. In fact, I find myself able to use more complex passwords, because it is so much faster and easier to braille them than to use the on-screen keyboard. For more, take a look at Apple's official documentation on this topic, or my own wishlist for the next update to Braille Screen Input.

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Disclaimer

The guide on this page has generously been submitted by a member of the AppleVis community. As AppleVis is a community-powered website, we make no guarantee, either express or implied, of the accuracy or completeness of the information contained in this guide.

41 Comments

My testing

I tested out the braille screen input feature on my iPad. I haven't tried the eight-dot mode yet, though.

One thing I didn't see mentioned is that you can double-tap all six dots to recalibrate the dot positions. On my iPad, the default dot placement was rather weird. I guess whoever set up the initial calibration must have had their hands in odd places, either that or I am holding it in a weird way and don't know it. Anyway, I have found that I've had to recalibrate the dot positions a few times while practicing to get the hang of things.

Also, while in VoiceOver practice mode, I found a gesture not mentioned here. Supposedly, a two-finger flick down will translate contracted braille immediately. I haven't tried it out, so I don't know how well it works.

My biggest problem so far when typing in braille is that, on occasion, the iPad acts like I'm still holding my fingers down after I release them, eventually going into exploration mode if I don't do anything. I have to tap a finger somewhere before it realizes I let go, and then the character being inserted is often different from the one I was trying to type. I especially have this problem when typing the letter L, dots 1 2 3, or when typing dots 4 5 6. Oddly, other characters that include those dots have no issues, such as the letter Q.

I think this was pointed out elsewhere, but I noticed an issue with typing echo when in contracted braille mode, where the iPad doesn't always tell me what I typed. This, combined with the issue I mentioned above, makes it hard for me to use contracted mode. I have much better luck in regular six-dot mode.

I tried both the facing away mode and the tabletop mode, and my experience was basically the same with both, though I think the holding down issue occurred more often in tabletop mode.

I have not used any braille apps before, so this is my first time doing any braille input. Although I know braille, I haven't been in practice for years, so this mode will definitely take some getting used to for me. I have a good excuse, though, since I can't use my Bluetooth keyboard with this version of iOS 8 with the various keyboard issues in the OS.

Braille imput

I have been using Braille screen imput and I find it nice for Polish language. All letters are correctly inserted, including characters typical for the Polish language and this makes writing much faster. Firstly, one has to get used to such way of typing. While using Polish voice, all letters and signs are spoken, including spaces. The point is that it does not always work properly in Safari but I do recomend it.

everything reversed

I have problem with this typing. I have ipad 2, ios8.1. I turned on braille input, laid my ipad on desk in portrait mode and did calibration. And now i have dots 1 and 4 at the bottom edge, while 3 and 6 at top edge. So when i type P it types V and when i type V it types P.

How to solve the problem in Safari

Hello, as previously said, I am very pleased with the Braille screen used in any application. I have problem with typing when an edit field appears in Safari on a webpage. Does anyone know how to solve this problem? Turning off dynamic search options in Safari settings but it did not bring much help. I do appreciate your suggestions. To make things clear, I'm using iPod Touch 5g with iOS 8.1. Warm greetings.

I am not seeing 8 dot braille

I am not seeing 8 dot braille mentioned in this guide above when I 3 finger swipe right or left, all I see is contracted and 6 dot, is there definitely an 8 dot option? I didn't know 8 dot braille existed, I have heard of grade 3, but I assume that's not the same thing?

8-dot braille is on the iPad only

The 8-dot braille mode is only available on the iPad, since the iPhone and iPod touch screens cannot handle more than five simultaneous finger touches, or so I've been told.

I've experimented with the 8-dot mode on my iPad Air. It is essentially like the computer braille code, used to represent web addresses, programming code, and the like, although that code is being deprecated as part of the transition to unified braille. Anyway, lowercase letters are the same as in normal braille, while uppercase letters have dot 7 added. Numbers are the same as in Nemeth code, as well as some punctuation marks and symbols, such as dots 346 for the plus sign. Most characters typed on a standard keyboard use the normal six dots, with dot 7 added for capitalization and for a few characters like square brackets, where the computer braille code had multiple characters assigned to the same dot pattern. Adding dot 8 gives you access to extended ASCII characters, such as accented letters, but these assignments appear to be completely arbitrary, making it impractical unless you have a really good memory and actually have use for those symbols.

For me, 8-dot mode is most useful when typing passwords, such as when I log into my bank using their app, since I can easily intermix uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols, with each character corresponding to a single braille cell.

my big wish on braille screen keyboard.

Hello there, first i am sory for my bad english knowledge and some mistakes.
I live in Lithuania, and speak lithuanian language. we have some special symbols like ą č ę ė į š ų ū ž. and i can not write these symbols on braille svreen keyboard. i think it is possible make somethink like dictionary that i could press dots combination and choose symbol, whitch i will type. for example if i pres 1 6 dots combination i write letter ą and so one. where i must give this request?
thank you so mutch.

in Polish everything is fine

Hi egle. Do you have Lithuanian support for VoiceOver? We have it for Polish language and typing Polish characters like ł ą ń ę ó ż ź is fine. If you have problems, you'd better write to Apple accessibility team and report this. Hope everything will be fine.

voice over for lithuanian

hey, Thank you for suggestion.we have not voice over support for lithuanian language because we have very smol groupe people, who using apple devices. i know only 7 people using IPhon

Braille typing has workt fine

Hello! I am try to use in a braille typing and i am find that the english the braille typing on the screen work better. I am usis iphone with hebrew language interface of iphone. Recently i have change to english because autto swich languages between hebrew and english tthat has not exsist at a moment in hebrew. Sumbady has bumpt in a bug? tenk!

Speaking about language specific issues

Hi, Or maybe this isn't language pspecific but only a sign that i'm a tad out of touch, no pun intended when it comes to braille, since i haven't used it since my Eureka a4 standard sadly died on me. I am ashamed to admit that i don't know how you type the at sign "@" or how you capitalise letters in 6 dot Swedish braille. Could anyone help me out there?

Awesome!

I have my iPad in portrait orientation and I also have my iPad on tabletop mode.

strange behavior

Hi,

Recently, I was not able to use braille writing feature, the fourth dot doesn't work at all for a couple of days. When I asked for help to a sighted friend, he told me that on the screen all four dots are represented as numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), but dot 4 was only partially visible, hidden on the upper frame. He tried to move it like a regular drag and drop element and... It just worked!

It returned to its starting position and I can write again.

Does someone know anything about that?

Thanks and if you experience the same problem, try to solve it this way.

Calibration?

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Thanks. I've never heard of this, but it's a good tip to keep in mind. I wonder if using the calibration command a few times would have worked the same way? If this ever happens again, try calibrating two or three times in a row and see if that helps as well.

Braille Screen Input

I use Braille screen input to type on my iPad.
I like to use Braille Screen input when I'm not using my braille display.

It's literally revolutionized my typing!

On my own device I can never just start typing right away after invoking BSI. My dots are always flipped. But, after a quick calibration, I really am finding this typing mode is revolutionizing how I type on my Ipod Touch 5G. I've been using I devices and touch screens for three or four years now, and while I certainly can type on the standard keyboards, I am totally and horrendously painfully slow at it! Slow to the point that I will avoid typing on a touch screen whenever possible.

but now, with the braille input method, and only after 2 days of practice. I'm finding that I'm typing more quickly and easily than I ever have before in my life.

So thank you for your introduction, and thanks to Apple for giving us this input method. I only wish I'd tried it sooner.

hmmm

Not sure if I like it or not. Sort of don't because of teh very odd way you have to hold your device, I guess that's just me being picky and I could just get a case.

Is there a shortcut to send texts?

If I'm texting, occasionally I will be having a prolonged conversation with someone and want to continue using BSI. This is especially true on my iPad. However, I find that I have to exit BSI to send the message, then find the send button, then go back to BSI when I want to type again. Using my smart cover, for some reason my iPad won't come back to landscape properly. Has anyone else had this problem?
Thanks,
Megan

Help!!!!

My dots on my iOS braille keyboard are all of a sudden reversed. In other words, I usually use braille holding the phone locked in screen away mode with the home button on the right. Usually, this means that "a" is the dot under my left forefinger. However, somehow the dots are turned around. Now, the "a" is under my right pinky, and I am not having much luck getting the phone orientated again the way I like to type. Does anyone else have this issue, or has had this issue, and what can be done about it? PS: I also find it devilishly hard to get the dots to calibrate. Thanks.

depends on the direction you rotate

For those having trouble with the dots being reversed, it depends on the direction you rotate your phone.

I discovered this the other day.

If the phone is in lanscape with the home button on the right and the volume buttons facing you, and you rotate away from you, the dots should be fine.

however, if you rotate towards you, they're going to be reversed.

So if I want tabletop mode with the home button on the right, I would first rotate the phone, doesn't matter in which direction, we only need to worry about the end result for this case.

What I do is rotate towards me until the screen is facing me with the home button still on the right and the volume pointing down.

Then I rotate in the other direction till it says tabletop mode.

I hope this makes sense.

Calabrating is a little tricky.

Think of the rhythm when double tapping, then use that to calibrate, first the right hand, then the left.

That's how I do it, this method might not work for everyone.

Re: Help

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Are you sure you didn't unlock orientation, realize it, and lock it after it had switched to being opposite of your usual? Have you tried unlocking orientation and putting the phone in the position you prefer, to see if it'll get back to normal?

I like what the previous commenter said about calibrating--that's a really great way to think about the speed at which you have to do it.

Thanks for the help

I'm going to try your suggestions and see if they work. I appreciate it, again.

Question about braille input

Is it possible to produce braille documents this way? If so, then I could email them in the braille course I am taking
Thanks,
Liz

no

Hi, braille document dosen't supported on ios but the writeing on a screen supported.
if do you have a notetaker can you use convert to brf document if you need.

Home button announced at wrong side in screen awaymode

On my iPhone 6S, I don't usually have a problem with dots being reversed. But whenever I switch to screen away mode with the home button on the right, it's always announced as being on the left, and vice versa. I've tried all sorts of rotations. The device happily switches between portrait and landscape, and between table top and screen away mode, but the announced position of the home button is invariably wrong. I find this irritating, and any advice would be appreciated. I'm running IOS 9.3.1, but the same thing happened with earlier versions of IOS 9. Many thanks.

This is normal

The reason that this is said is for the visual layout. Imagine that a sighted person standing opposite you is watching you type in braille. You have the phone with the home button to the right, so your left hand is typing dots 1, 2 and 3. A sighted person standing opposite you would see the home button on the left. That is why the home button is announced incorrectly.

Note: when I say sighted person, I could have chosen to say "person", but I didn't want to give blind people the superpower of being able to see this and possibly cause undue confusion.

Questions

Why can't I get character feedback when typing with contracted Braille? This really should be a feature. Also is there a way to get to the send or search buttons from Braille mode?

Feedback and navigating

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

The lack of feedback when using contracted braille is a longstanding bug. On the one hand, it's harder to do, since symbols mean different things as you type.On the other hand, it's doable, as many stand-alone notetakers have demonstrated. Keep emailing Apple.

No, you can't navigate inside BSI. It's just a keyboard, like any other. You can press enter, with a two-finger swipe right, but nothing more. BSI is a typing method, not a way to navigate, and Apple seems to want to keep those two areas separate.

Symbols using 8 dot computer Braille?

Hi. I use an iPad and use Braille Screen Input a lot. It's set to 8 dot computer Braille. But there is some symbols I can't figure out. One is capital. How do I capitalize letters or do caps lock? And how do I do the @ sign?

Brailling all six dots at once

Hi! I have successfully used Braille Screen Input regularly since I started using IOS 8 after buying my iPhone 6, but one thing I have never managed to do successfully is brailling all six dots at once, as one would do to braille the word "for" in English contracted braille or e acute in French braille. I currently write the word "for" in full when brailling in English, and switch to the built-in IOS default onscreen keyboard if I wish to add an acute accent to an e while brailling in French. I read in a previous comment that it's not possible to put more than five fingers on the screen at once, so that may explain my difficulties and need for workarounds as described above. For this reason, can anyone recommend a way of getting all six dots to register when I try to braille them, or is there some way of doing all six dots in two or more steps? Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

I will

I'll email Apple that's anoying if you can type on the home page to find a app you should be able to hit a send or submit button.

Problem in text messaging

Hello,
I have issues with BSI and text messaging. Most of the time when I go to type something in, nothing gets typed in. It is like the phone is not registering my touches. No matter what I type nothing happens. I keep having to flip the phone between tabletop and screen away mode several times before I can get anything to register. This happens only in the messaging app. Everywhere else seems to work fine. Has anyone else seen this odd behavior?

Regards,
Greg Wocher

Brailling All 6 Dots at Once

Hi Clare. I did some experimenhting this evening, and hope the following will be of use. To braille all 6 dots, try this:
Braille the letter q on the screen, and, while keeping the fingers for dots 123 held down, remove the fingers corresponding to dots 4 and 5, and tap dot 6., then remove all fingers.
In fact, there are many possible variations. The principle is that in order to add the 6th dot, you need to remove at least 1 finger, but there must still be at least 1 finger on the screen when you tap the 6th dot.

Answers for some

In this guide, it says you can't flip the dots but if I understand correctly, wouldn't holding it with the home button to the right for example, flicking down with 3 fingers, then flipping it so that the home button is to the left do that? In English Braille, the @ symbol is dot 4 then 1. In iOS 10 you're supposed to get character/cell echo in contracted. The reason you think you're typing and aren't in text messaging is because for some stupid reason, it activates the proximity sensor. Extremely frustrating.

Flipping and newer iphones with 'for' symbol'

I don't think flipping the dots, IE ring finger becoming dot 1 is possible as the other way up it isn't a mirror image, it's actually reflected through both the x and y axis, so dot 1 would be the 3rd finger on your right hand.

How do more recent phones cope with brailing all dots?

I'd really like it if there were a send/activate button here, two fingers up? I know I've still got to flip to get back into the app anyway but would still be nice instead of searching aroudn whilst in keyboard mode.