A refreshable braille display (RFBD) is a device that displays braille characters by raising and lowering pins in 6 or 8 dot braille cells. A braille display sits on the user’s desk, often underneath the computer keyboard. Some units act as braille inputs and outputs, while some are solely output devices. These units usually display 20, 40, 70, or 80 cells at one time. Some units are also equipped to perform note taking, file storage, and synthetic speech capabilities. These units cost between ~2,000$CAD to 14,000$CAD depending on the number of display cells and brand. Smaller devices can be used effectively for personal planning, reading text from smart phones apps, and note taking, while larger displays may prove superior when reading long texts or reading information presented in a spatial format.
One study which directly analyzed the differences of learning using traditional braille displays (paper and the Perkins Brailler) and a RFBD found no consistent differences between the two groups. Students were found to make gains in knowledge in the subject area, while many also experienced gains in reading fluency, regardless of the medium of instruction (Bickford & Falco, 2012).
Research Rating: Due to the experimental nature of the information cited in this description this information is to be trusted as valid and reliable.
Provides direct access to information
Allows users to check spelling and formatting
Light weight and portable
Can also be used in situations outside the classroom
Most are Bluetooth and WIFI enabled for easy connectivity
Long term cost effective.
Can be very expensive
These units are often used in conjunction with other devices; one study found that most students use around 4 devices, some reporting using up to 8 devices (D'Andrea, 2012). Some elements of information commonly used in question stems on standardized tests (charts, pictures, formatting, and punctuation) are unable to be displayed using the RFBD.
One study found that up to 20.55% of reading questions and 13% of language questions were unanswerable due to an inability for the RFBD to display this type of information (Kamei-Hannan, 2008). Another study found spatialized speech products, such as the JAWS screen reader, much faster (160%) at communicating information about tables and formatting than RFBDs, and equally accurate (Sodnik, Jakus, and Tomazic, 2008).
Lastly, a study (D'Andrea, 2012) found that students who read braille overwhelmingly prefer speech software for math and foreign languages topics than RFBDs (D'Andrea, 2012).
These findings reaffirm the idea that RFBD work better in some content areas than other, and that they work better when used in conjunction with other techs.
Special Consideration: Workflow
Exact prices change frequently, which is why only approximate ranges are listed.
$ - Under $5
$$ - Between $6 and $50
$$$ - Between $51 and $250
$$$$ - Over $250
Bickford, J. O., & Falco, R. A. (2012). Technology for early braille literacy: comparison of traditional braille instruction and instruction with an electronic notetaker. Journal of visual impairment & blindness, 106(10), 679.
D'Andrea, F. M. (2012). Preferences and practices among students who read braille and use assistive technology. Journal of visual impairment & blindness, 106(10), 585.
Kamei-Hannan, C. (2008). Examining the accessibility of a computerized adapted test using assistive technology. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 102, 261.
Sodnik, J., Jakus, G., & Tomazic, S. (2012). The use of spatialized speech in auditory interfaces for computer users who are visually impaired. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 106(10), 634.
Written by Harrison McNaughtan, Last Revision May 2018