Last edited by Scott Davert on March 5, 2022.
Can I use a braille display with my iOS Device? If so, which models are compatible?
Any iOS Device that runs VoiceOver can support a large variety of Bluetooth braille displays. Common ones include Humanware's Brailliant line, the Focus displays from Vispero, displays from Orbit Research, Alva, VissioBraille , HIMS, and other companies. Please see Apple's official list of supported braille displays. You may also find this page listing common braille commands for iOS to be helpful.
Over thirty models are supported, according to Apple, so chances are that if your display includes Bluetooth connectivity, it will be supported. Please see the link above to ensure that your model is listed. If it is listed, you're in luck!
How do I pair my display with my iOS Device?
This process differs for each display, so I will not answer in detail. For example, the Braillliant BIX series has you pair through Bluetooth settings, while others may require you to do other things like match an authentication code between the iOS Device and the braille device. However, most will still allow you to pair through the conventional method. Here are generic instructions:
- Put your display in "terminal" or "discoverable" mode.
- On the iOS Device, go to Settings, accessibility, VoiceOver, Braille. If the iOS Device Bluetooth is not on, you will be prompted to turn it on at this point; do so before continuing.
- After a few seconds, you will see a list of available displays (assuming your display is in the correct mode). Simply choose your display from the list by double tapping it.
- IN some cases, you will then be prompted to enter a passcode on the iOS Device. This code will differ depending on which display you are using, so check with the documentation or display manufacturer to find the correct code. The manufacturer should also let you know if no pin is required, which is more common with newer devices. When entering a passcode, you will only have a few seconds to enter it. so be ready with it and be sure you are comfortable typing with the iOS Device's onscreen number pad. Once you have entered the code, double tap the "pair" button, found in the upper right area of the screen, just below the status bar. It is also possible to enter the passcode on a Bluetooth keyboard if you find that a more comfortable way to enter the passcode.
- If all went well, there will be a delay of a few seconds and then you will see braille appearing on your display. You can now use the display to read much what VoiceOver says and, assuming you have a keyboard on the display, enter text and commands into the iOS Device.
If you take too long to enter the passcode, if you fail to pair your display a few times in a row, or if iOS is just in a bad mood, you may run into strange problems. Below are some common challenges and how you can try to overcome them.
- If you try to enter the passcode three times and are unsuccessful, you will find odd things happening; the iOS Device may not find the display, it may refuse to prompt for the passcode, and so on. To get around this, go back to the main Settings screen and choose Bluetooth (this item is under General in older versions of iOS). Find your display in the list of devices and double tap it. Now find and double tap the "forget device" button. You are now free to try three more times to pair the display.
- If that does not work and error messages still appear when you try to pair your display, try turning the iOS Device off and back on (this is not the same as locking and unlocking it). Also try resetting your braille display and/or clearing out its saved Bluetooth devices(refer to the device's documentation for help). If both of these do not solve the problem, try resetting network settings. This reset is located under settings>General>Reset. You will have to reenter any Wifi network information you have stored, but it can also sometimes make things work again. This is because both the Bluetooth and Wifi radios on your iOS Device are on the same chip.
As of March 2022, this support is still in its infancy. Along with your iOS Device and braille display, you will also need the Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter available from Apple for approximately $40. TO connect your braille display in this manor, you will need to plug in a Lightning cable to provide power. You will then connect the USB-A port to the braille display, and plug the other side of the adapter, which has a short cable, into your iOS device. Of the displays I’ve tested, the Brailliant BI 20X, Brailliant BI 40X, Mantis Q40, and Chameleon 20 were the only devices that I was able to connect successfully. The number of displays which support the new HID standard established in 2018 is very low since it is new.
One limitation I found to the USB connection was unresponsiveness from the braille keyboard after the screen has been locked. This issue can be resolved by either restarting VoiceOver, or unplugging the display and then plugging it back in. It may also be worth noting that the braille display customized commands that may have been set up under Bluetooth do not appear to work when connecting to USB.
What codes and grades of Braille are supported by iOS?
iOS supports contracted braille (U.S., UK, and UEB) for input and output, and Nemeth when displaying equations (see the braille settings to configure these and other options). It also supports eight-dot braille, and the table used for that is based on your language selection. In other words, the language your device is speaking is the same language in which eight dot braille will be handled.
I'm having a lot of difficulty typing emails, is there any sort of work around for this issue?
Particularly with iOS 14.5 and later, it seems to require much less editing and fighting with the cursor to compose emails using either the Voice Dream Writer applicationthe or the Notes app. You can use the spell check functionality found in the Voice Dream Writer app, or the spellchecking facility with the rotor when using Notes. when you have finished composing your email in the Voice Dream Writer or Notes app, you can select all of the text typed by pressing space with dots 2-3-5-6. Then, press space with dots 1-4 to copy the text to your clipboard. Finally, move to the mail app, and once you are ready to type the message, press space with 1-2-3-6 to paste what you have copied. Important note: when you have an older iPhone such as the iPhone from the XR on down, you will notice that the behavior from Mail will often still cause issues in the Notes application. This is a work around, and like most such workarounds, it will only help to some degree. Editing a 3 or 4 paragraph email may not be possible on older devices in Notes , but does typically work with Voice Dream Writer. The draw-back to Voice Dream Writer is that it does cost $9.99. With Notes, I have had many fewer issues than in Mail running an iPhone SE 2020. Bottom line: Voice Dream Writer appears to be a more solid workaround, but there is a free solution which is not quite as reliable in the form of the Notes app.
I’m having trouble entering passwords in some places with iOS, is there a workaround for this?
Many websites and apps now do not accept entry from a braille display regardless of code of braille or your table settings. However, you have a few options for overcoming this. One is to press space with 1-4-6 to make the onscreen keyboard visible. At that point, you can enter the password on the touchscreen and proceed with logging in. You can also write the password in a note or other text field, press space with 2-3-5-6 to select all, navigate back to the text field requiring the password, and then press space with 1-2-3-6 to paste the contents of that note into the field.
When I am trying to enter numbers with the braille display, such as on money transfer screens, my braille keyboard entry is not accepted: what can I do?
You can do the same method described above for entering passwords by unhiding the onscreen keyboard and entering the numbers that way. As a reminder, pressing space with 1-4-6 will hide and un-hide this keyboard. You can also select the numbers from your braille display to enter the amount.
I Want To Use a Shortcut That is not Currently Available on my Braille Display, Can this be Done?
Braille users of Mac OS have had the ability to customize Braille keyboard commands for quite some time, and with iOS 11, this is now also an option. You can decide not only what function you would like to be able to carry out from your Braille display, but also what keyboard combination you would like that command to have. If the command you desire is already in use by another function, that’s okay, you can change it to something else. The commands are specific to each Braille display, so if you work with more than one, you will need to set these commands up for each device. Though most Braille displays have a Perkins style keyboard, they also have buttons that make them unique, which is the reason Apple has done it this way. For example, the Focus displays, which have many controls on the front of the device that can be either assigned, or re-assigned, allow for many more customized commands beyond the Perkins style keyboard itself. The amount of options available for new commands will vary based on the Braille display’s specific capabilities and programmable buttons.
To assign a new command for your Braille display, go to Settings>Accessibility>VoiceOver>Braille>the name of your Device>More Info>Braille Commands”. Within this screen, you will find seven categories for configuring new or existing commands. You will also find the option to “Reset All Commands” at the bottom of this screen. There are too many options to list, but I will describe how to add or change a command by example below.
Let's set up a new braille keyboard shortcut to lock the screen of the connected iOS device. Since I am a user of the Brailliant, this allows me to take full control of my iOS Device without having to ever interact with it, since I can already wake it up by pressing a Cursor Routing Button. Note that this will not apply to displays from other manufacturers. This command to lock the screen is only an option from iOS 15.1 onward, but will work with any braille display connected to your iOS or IPadOS device. Step by step instructions follow:
- After navigating to Settings>Accessibility>VoiceOver>Braille>More Info>Braille Commands, activate the “Device” button.
- Scroll down to the “Lock Screen” button.
- Navigate to "Assign New Braille Keys", and activate it.
- Press a key, or combination of keys, that you wish to be assigned this command. Be sure to either pick something you do not ever use, or a brand new command altogether.
- If the command you have chosen doesn't already have something assigned to it, you will be done with this process. If the Braille keyboard assignment does have a command already associated with that keyboard combination, you will get an alert telling you what the already assigned action is, and asking you if you wish to change it.
- Choose "OK" or "Cancel", and the appropriate option will be chosen.
You can now press that Braille keyboard combination you have assigned this function and your screen will lock.
Pressing Dot 8 in a Text Message or Some Other Chat Programs Send my Messages Right Away, is There a Way to Insert a Line Break in These Instances?
There is. Simply add the Option key followed by dot 8. The default braille keyboard combination for this is space with dots 2-7.
Can I Use Siri With a Braille Display Only?
To set up Siri to work with braille you must first enable "Type to Siri". Turn this on by going to Settings>Accessibility>Siri>Type to Siri and turn this feature on. Once this is turned on, pressing the side button, or Home button depending on your device, you will find a keyboard ready to accept text input. Using braille only, you will have to navigate to the bottom of the screen where the text field is. When you invoke Siri, there will not be a noticeable change on a braille display, Though the text field will be at the bottom of the screen. You cannot seem to use space with 4-5-6 to get to the bottom of the screen when Siri is activated. Instead, you must press space with dot 4 until you get past whatever you are working on. If, for example, you are on your Home Screen, you will have to press space with dot 4 until you get past the last item on your dock. Now, you can type something you would like Siri to do, press dot 8, and Siri will carry out the requested phrase. With iOS 15 and later, you will find the results of your typed command by pressing space with dot 1. Press space with dot 4 again and a Cursor Routing button to type another request. TO exit Siri, press space with H.
If you would like to set up a braille display command to invoke Siri, you can also do this. Step by step instructions follow:
- Head over to Settings>Accessibility>VoiceOver>Braille>More Info (under the device you have connected), and then commands.
- Activate the Device button.
- scroll down to the Siri button and activate it.
- Scroll to "Assign New Braille Keys.
- Have a command in mind so that you can immediately press this keyboard combination. For example, Backspace with S. If the command you have chosen doesn't already have something assigned to it, you will be done with this process. If the Braille keyboard assignment does have a command already associated with that keyboard combination, you will get an alert telling you what the already assigned action is, and asking you if you wish to change it.
- Choose "OK" or "Cancel", and the appropriate option will be chosen.
I like reading books on iOS, but can I set up auto-scroll?
This feature has been available on some of the braille displays sold by a German company called HelpTech, but Apple has brought it to all braille displays in iOS 14 and later. To set it up, you will first need to assign a braille keyboard command to start and stop auto-advance. You will find the option for assigning a new braille keyboard command under the braille category. There are also options to assign keyboard commands to control the speed of the auto-advancing. If you are unfamiliar with how to assign braille keyboard commands to certain actions, please see the above section on doing so in this guide. If you don’t wish to assign braille keyboard commands to control the speed of auto advance, you can also add this to your VoiceOver Rotor and control the speed that way.
Is There a Way to Quickly Switch Languages with Braille?
Yes, though the process for devices running iOS 13 and later differs from iOS 12.4.1 and below.
iOS 13 and later has many different braille tables to choose from. You will first need to add the braille table you wish to use. To add a table, do the following:
- navigate to Settings > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Braille > Braille Tables.
- After the “edit” button, you will be presented with a list of tables which have already been added to your iOS device. If you have not added any, you will have the one that corresponds to your region settings. If you have not downloaded any other braille tables, this will be followed by an “Add Braille Table” button.
- After activating the "add braille table" button, you will be presented with a list of languages. Selecting any of these languages will download the selected braille table for use. You can also type a language in the search box if you would like. Either way, select the desired language.
- Selecting the listing of the language under either heading will select that braille table. You are then presented with a System heading, followed by the language, then the Liblouis heading followed by the language again. At this time, it appears that the Liblouis tables still have translation issues, so if you have the language listed under the System heading, I would recommend selecting this. Note that some languages do not have System tables, but only Liblouis.
- Now the braille table you just added is available from within iOS anywhere via the VoiceOver Rotor. If this is your first time adding a braille table, you will find a new rotor option called "braille table".
For iOS 12.4.1 and earlier, you will not find this setting under the options for braille. Instead, you will need to set this up under the “speech” options in VoiceOver as described below.
- Go to Settings>General>Accessibility>VoiceOver>Speech
- Under the “rotor languages” heading, choose “add new language.
- Choose the language you wish to be able to switch to from the list of available options.
- Once you select a language, you will be returned to the previous screen. If this is the first time you have added a new language to your iOS device, you will find a new rotor option called “Language”. If you already have items in your Language rotor option, the newly added language will appear among the other options. When you switch to the new language, both VoiceOver’s speech and your braille table will switch immediately.
Do you have any other suggestions for users of braille devices on iOS?
There are many tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your braille display and iOS Device. One such guide by David Woodbridge can be found here. There is also a blog post entitled Ten Tips for Braille Users of iOS Devices. if the first set of tips aren't enough, there is a second one as well
This is good info, but which display should I choose?
The choice of a specific braille device is going to depend on your preferences as a user. As such, what I find works well may not be suitable for you. I would recommend checking out the various braille devices in our accessory reviews, for more information.
Can I get this info in an audio form instead?
I have recorded a podcast which you can listen to by clicking the above link. This podcast covers much of what has been discussed here in written form, but if you do not prefer audio, or can’t access it, a transcript is also included.