Chapter 10. Using Braille Displays

This chapter provides information about using refreshable braille displays, both plug in and Bluetooth, with VoiceOver. This chapter also includes a list of the many types of braille displays VoiceOver supports.

About refreshable braille displays

If you have a supported braille display connected to (or in the case of a Bluetooth display, paired with) your computer, VoiceOver automatically detects it and sends it information about what is displayed on the screen. You can connect multiple braille displays to your computer and each display will mirror the same content at the same time, which can be useful in a classroom setting.

By default, VoiceOver displays uncontracted braille. You can set a preference to use contracted braille, in which case VoiceOver dynamically changes the display under the cursor from contracted to uncontracted braille, so that you can read and edit more easily, and then changes back to contracted braille when you move the cursor.

A braille display typically contains more than just the contents of the VoiceOver cursor. It describes the contents of the entire line on which the VoiceOver cursor is focused, including items to the left and right of the VoiceOver cursor. For example, when the VoiceOver cursor is focused on an item in a window, the braille device displays items like icons, checkboxes, and pop-up menus, as well as text that is to the left and right of the item in the VoiceOver cursor. This collection of items—the VoiceOver cursor and the items to its left and right on the same horizontal line—make up a “line” of braille.

When you interact with an item in the VoiceOver cursor to get more detail about it, the braille description changes to provide more detail as well. For example, if you move the VoiceOver cursor onto a toolbar, VoiceOver describes only the toolbar on the braille display, because toolbars stretch the entire width of a window. When you interact with the toolbar, the braille display describes each item in the toolbar from left to right.

VoiceOver raises dots 7 and 8 to indicate the position of the VoiceOver cursor, to help you locate it within the line of braille. (You can turn off this feature in VoiceOver Utility). Similarly, when you’re editing or selecting text, the text selection is represented by dots 7 and 8. VoiceOver also indicates the position of the text selection cursor, called the “I-beam,” by flashing dot 8 of the braille cell preceding the text selection cursor and dot 7 of the braille cell trailing the text selection cursor.

VoiceOver provides additional information about what’s on the screen using three status cells. Each status cell provides a designated type of information. You can set preferences for the number of status cells you want to use and their location on the braille display. For example, you can choose to use the cell that shows text status and set its location to be on the left of your display.

VoiceOver detects the type of braille display connected to your computer and sets default preferences appropriate for your display. Use VoiceOver Utility to assign VoiceOver commands to keys on your braille display. You can use the braille display while listening to VoiceOver speak, or you can mute the speech. If your braille display has a Perkins-style keyboard, you can type on it.

Pairing a Bluetooth braille display

Before you can use a supported Bluetooth braille display with VoiceOver, you must pair your braille display. You can pair only one Bluetooth braille display at a time. You pair the display only once; it remains paired until you remove it from the pairing. After your braille display is paired, VoiceOver detects it whenever it’s turned on and within range; if it’s your primary braille display, you can then use it.

To pair a Bluetooth braille display with VoiceOver:
  1. When VoiceOver is on, open VoiceOver Utility by pressing VO-F8.
  2. Click the Braille category, click Displays, and then click the Add (+) button.
  3. Select your Bluetooth braille display in the list.

    VoiceOver filters the devices it detects to list only the Bluetooth braille displays that are within range of your computer and that appear to match a VoiceOver braille display driver.

  4. Click Select.

    You may be asked to provide a pairing passcode (such as 0000 or 1234, two common default codes). Check the documentation that came with your braille display for the passcode.

If the Bluetooth braille display you selected in the list doesn’t work with VoiceOver, it’s likely that its driver doesn’t match a VoiceOver driver. Try pairing a different Bluetooth braille display.

If your Bluetooth braille display isn’t listed, make sure you have set the display to be discoverable. For more information, check the documentation that came with your braille display.

About panning on a braille display

Sometimes a line of braille is too wide to fit on the braille display. You can “pan” the line by pressing the left and right buttons on the display to move through the line. Each left or right pan moves according to the number of cells (including status cells) your display contains.

When you move the VoiceOver cursor using the VoiceOver keys, the braille display automatically pans when necessary to follow it, even wrapping to the previous or next line.

Using router keys on a braille display

Many braille displays have router keys above the braille cells that you can use to move the cursor. Generally, you press the router key above a particular item in the line of braille to move the VoiceOver cursor or selection to that item.

Pressing a router key over a control moves the VoiceOver cursor to that control if the VoiceOver cursor is not already there. If the VoiceOver cursor is already on that control, pressing the router key performs the control’s default action. For example, to click a button, you could press the router key to move the VoiceOver cursor to the button and then press the router key again to click the button. You would not have to touch the computer’s keyboard at all. Similarly, when you’re reading or navigating text and you press a router key, the VoiceOver cursor moves to that location in text.

You can also press the router key above a status cell to display an expanded braille description of each dot in the cell. To exit the description, press any other router key.

Using status cells on a braille display

The content of the line on the screen where the VoiceOver cursor is focused appears in the cells of the braille display. VoiceOver uses status cells to provide additional information about the line, such as the text attributes.

If your braille display has dedicated status cells, VoiceOver uses those cells to show the additional information, based on the preferences you set in VoiceOver Utility. Otherwise, VoiceOver uses the first one to three cells on the left or right of the display, based on your preferences. VoiceOver reserves another cell, which it leaves blank, as a separator between the status cells and the other cells.

Here are ways to use status cells:

If you didn’t set any status cell preferences, status is not shown, and all of the reading cells are used to show the content of the current line.

Reviewing announcements on a braille display

VoiceOver sends announcements about events that are not represented visually on the screen to the braille display. For example, if an application running in the background needs attention or if a new window appears onscreen, VoiceOver sends an announcement to the braille display.

VoiceOver stores up to 30 announcements in the history; the most recent announcement is the first one. If you set a preference to use the status cell that shows general display status, you can review announcements.

Here are ways to review announcements:

When you’re done reviewing announcements, press any router key above the announcement to redisplay the current line.

Assigning braille display keys to VoiceOver commands

VoiceOver detects whether your braille display provides input keys and assigns common VoiceOver commands to the keys. In this way, it helps you work more efficiently by using the computer keyboard less. For example, VoiceOver might assign the Down command to the D3 key; when you press that key on your braille display, the VoiceOver cursor moves down one line on the screen. You can change the default assignments and add your own.

To assign input keys to commands:
  1. With your braille display connected to or paired with your computer and with VoiceOver on, open VoiceOver Utility by pressing VO-F8.
  2. Click Braille in the category table, click Displays, select the braille display you want to assign commands for, and then click Assign Commands.
  3. Choose the VoiceOver command you want to assign to input keys.
    • For an existing assignment, choose a command from the pop-up menus in a row.
    • For a new assignment, click the Add (+) button to add a row to the list, and then choose a command from the pop-up menus in the row.
  4. Press Command-B to save the assignment.

    After you press Command-B, you’ll have about five seconds before VoiceOver saves the assignment. A sound effect counts down the seconds.

Supported braille displays

Mac OS X supports a wide range of USB and Bluetooth braille displays.

Note:The table indicates displays that are Bluetooth only, or are USB and Bluetooth. If neither label appears, the display is USB only.




BC640 (USB and Bluetooth)

BC680 (USB and Bluetooth)

EasyLink 12 (Bluetooth)

544 Satellite

544 Satellite Traveller

570 Satellite Pro

584 Satellite Pro

American Printing House for the Blind (APH)

Refreshabraille 18 (USB and Bluetooth)


Conny 12 (Bluetooth)

Note: VoiceOver identifies this display as HumanWare BrailleConnect 12.

PocketVario 24

SuperVario 32

SuperVario 40

SuperVario 64

SuperVario 80

VarioConnect 24

VarioConnect 32

VarioConnect 40


Esys 12 (USB and Bluetooth)

Esys 40 (USB and Bluetooth)

Freedom Scientific

Focus 40

Focus 80

PAC Mate 20

PAC Mate 40

PAC Mate BX420 (display only)

PAC Mate BX440 (display only)

PAC Mate QX420 (display only)

PAC Mate QX440 (display only)

GW Micro


SyncBraille 20

SyncBraille 32


Braille Star 40 (USB and Bluetooth)

Braille Star 8

Braille Wave (USB and Bluetooth)

Braillino (Bluetooth)

Easy Braille (USB and Bluetooth)



SyncBraille 20

SyncBraille 32


BrailleSense (Bluetooth, requiring a Bluetooth module)

BrailleSense Plus (Bluetooth, not requiring a Bluetooth module)


BrailleConnect 12 (Bluetooth)

BrailleConnect 24 (USB and Bluetooth)

BrailleConnect 32 (USB and Bluetooth)

BrailleConnect 40 (USB and Bluetooth)

BrailleNote mPower BT 18 (Bluetooth)

BrailleNote mPower BT 32 (Bluetooth)

Brailliant 24 (USB and Bluetooth)

Brailliant 32 (USB and Bluetooth)

Brailliant 40 (USB and Bluetooth)

Brailliant 64 (USB and Bluetooth)

Brailliant 80 (USB and Bluetooth)

Nippon Telesoft

Seika Version 3


Braillex Trio (USB and Bluetooth)