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What is a Refreshable Braille Display?




A Refreshable Braille Display is an electronic version of a traditional Braille system that displays braille characters using round-tipped pins. It is an electro-magnetic hardware with a series of refreshable Braille cells or characters on its surface to access information on a computer screen. It shows up to 80, refreshable characters.

How does a Refreshable Braille Display work?

© Humanware

A Refreshable Braille Display is placed underneath the keyboard. It can be connected to the computer system running a screen reader in combination with a keyboard. Like a computer, a Braille display requires information to function. This information is fed with the help of screen reading software on a computer or texts from keyboards or smartphones.

The information from such texts or screen readers is translated into Braille. People with visual impairments use the Braille display to read the information line by line, which refreshes when they reach the end of a strip or line.

From the display, a user can read the combination of characters by moving the cursor or finger on the screen or using screen reader commands. Once done, the Braille hardware then displays the next set of characters.

Typically, there are fourteen to eighty Braille cells in a single line. In comparison to traditional Braille displays, each Braille dot on a Refreshable Braille display is represented by a tiny pin. The different combinations of pins are raised or lowered accordingly in Braille cells.

© Vario


The advantages of a Refreshable Braille display are:

  • It provides direct access to information on a computer screen.
  • It is quiet and user friendly as compared to synthetic speech technology.
  • It allows a user to check spacing, format, spelling, and other details.
  • It saves large volumes of paper Braille by processing and saving information electronically.
  • It easily transfers information to other devices such as storage cards.

Variants in Braille display systems

A Refreshable Braille display hardware is available with 40, 70, or 80 characters. Generally, a 40 character display will suffice for most jobs. However, high-frequency jobs such as programming and customer service require a 70 or 80 character Braille display. Moreover, personal digital assistants or PDAs can also be used as a Braille display for computer connections.


The price of a Braille Display varies based on the features and models. Some higher variants such as Actilino and Braille Star 80 also include file storage, calendar, and note-taking features. The price for good quality Braille display with ample features ranges from $1,400 to $15,000. Below are some of the best Refreshable Braille displays.

ALVA Satellite 570

Price – $9,995

  • Easy to install
  • It features 70 Braille cells, two rows of cursor routing buttons, a plug,
  • Other models with 40, 44, and 80 are also available.
  • It works well with JAWS and Window-Eyes.
  • It can be connected via USB or entering a serial number.

BrailleNote BT32

Price – $5,795

  • It features one row of cursor routing buttons, 32 cell, and sharp Braille dots.
  • A 18-cell model is available.
  • It does not require a regular plugin as it runs on its own power.
  • It works well with both JAWS and Window-Eyes.

Handy Tech Braille Star 80

Price – $10,999

  • It features one row of cursor routing buttons, notetaker function, and serial or USB connection.
  • Both 40 and 80 cell displays are available.
  • For training purposes, it can be connected to two computers at a time.
  • Sleek design and extra keys for easy navigation.
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