Bruce Lawson's personal site

Why would a screen reader user have a braille display?

Last week, I was invited to address the annual conference of the UK Association for Accessible Formats. I found myself sitting next to a man with these two refreshable braille displays, so I asked him what the difference is.

Two similar refreshable braille displays, side by side

On the left is his old VarioUltra 20, which can connect to devices via USB, Bluetooth, and can take a 32MS SD card, for offline use (reading a book, for example). It’s also a note-taker. He told me it cost around £2500. On the right is his new Orbit Reader 20, “the world’s most affordable Refreshable Braille Display” with similar functionality, which costs £500.

As he wasn’t deaf-blind, I asked why he uses such expensive equipment, when devices have built-in free screen readers. One of his reasons was, in retrospect, so blazingly obvious, and so human.

He likes to read his kids bedtime stories. With the braille display, he can read without a synthesised voice in his ear. Therefore, he could do all the characters’ voices himself to entertain his children.

My take-home from this: Of course free screen readers are an enormous boon, but each person has their own reasons for choosing their assistive technologies. Accessibility isn’t a technological problem to be solved. It’s an essential part of the human condition: we all have different needs and abilities.

2 Responses to “ Why would a screen reader user have a braille display? ”

Comment by Dean Martineau

there are so many reasons to use braille. By the way, the screen reader is also controling braille output. Among the reasons: Learning to spell and format, ability to read silently, becoming literate in a foreign language (or in one’s own,) reading music notation, not having to listen to speech synthesis, playing sudoku and other word games, and others.

Comment by Roel Van Gils

Reading bedtime stories to your child using a braille display, that’s a really powerful example indeed!

However, a braille display isn’t an alternative for a using screenreader. It’s the screenreader that outputs information to the braille display (and it often also doubles as a braille input device).

Most bind professionals I know, simply can’t do their job without using a braille display. Every-day tasks like editing an article, for example, is a dreadful experience when you have to rely on text-to-speech only.

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