Part 1: Ten Braille Tips for iDevices by Scott Davert, AppleVis Editorial Team and Accessibility Specialist

Photo of Scott Davert with his white cane and assistive technology

Guest blogger Scott Davert, M.A., VRT, (at left) is an AppleVis Editorial Team Member and a Senior Instructor in the Adaptive Technology Department and Communications Learning Center at the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults. Previously, Scott has reviewed new accessibility features in iOS 7, RoboBraille, and the Humanware Communicator app

In his latest review, Scott has compiled 10 useful tips for braille users of the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, based upon his personal experience and his work with individuals who are deaf-blind and use braille with their iDevices.

1. Improving the Connection Process

If Bluetooth is enabled, each time you press the Home key on your iDevice, it will search for other Bluetooth devices to connect to. This includes braille displays that have already been paired. Thus, to have a greater chance of getting your iDevice and braille display to start communicating immediately, it is a good idea to have your braille display on and in “Discoverable” mode (meaning that your Bluetooth-enabled device has the ability to search for and locate other devices within range) or “Terminal for Screen Reader” mode before unlocking your iDevice.

As long as the two have been paired previously, and “braille display” is chosen in VoiceOver, the pairing process should commence very quickly. It is true that you can sometimes get the braille display to connect while turning it on with your iDevice already unlocked, but this will not always be successful.

2. What’s with the Funky Symbols in iOS 7?

If you are a braille user living in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, or any other country that has not yet officially adopted Unified English Braille (UEB), you may be wondering what the deal is with some of the braille translation. The issue is that iOS 7 automatically uses the UEB table, no matter how your regional and language settings are configured, including any previously configured English translation tables prior to an iOS 7 upgrade.

If you want to switch back to US or UK braille, go to Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Braille and then select Translation Table. Select one of the three choices offered, and your braille will switch to that translation table.

3. Noisy VoiceOver, Quiet Display

In iOS 7, you can turn off VoiceOver sounds without affecting system sounds. This is useful if you want to receive sound alerts about notifications but find the clicks and beeps of VoiceOver to be annoying. There are two ways of doing this: You can either add it to your Rotor settings with VoiceOver or go to Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver and turn the “sounds” off.

4. What Was That Again?

Sometimes, VoiceOver will give you a result or display information that flashes in braille and then disappears. One example of this is the LookTel Money Reader app, another is TapTapSee, and a third, in certain instances, is Dice World.

Fortunately, beginning with iOS 6, you can read it again at your own pace if you didn’t catch it the first time. To do so, press space with N, which reviews a history of the last few items VoiceOver sent to the braille display. To go to the previous item, press space with dot 1; to advance through the history, press space with dot 4. When you’ve finished reviewing these messages, press space with N again to return to wherever you were in iOS.

Please note: While you are reviewing these messages, pressing space with dot 1 or dot 4 will still move the VoiceOver cursor; therefore, when you press space with N for the second time, you may be returned to a different point on the screen.

5. Dude, Where’s My Battery Life?

Anyone who uses external hardware that connects through Bluetooth can attest to the fact that it is quite the battery hog, whether it’s an external GPS receiver, headset, keyboard, or braille display. While logic may dictate that using the Screen Curtain will help save battery, since it makes the screen go dark, this is not true.

The Screen Curtain is, quite literally, a curtain that goes over your screen and is a VoiceOver-specific function. You can verify this by turning your screen brightness up to 100 percent while the Screen Curtain is enabled and watching your battery do a downward spiral. You can also feel heat around the edges of the screen after using your device with the brightness set this high after several minutes.

Instead, set your screen brightness to 0 percent. Just remember to increase the screen brightness when you want a sighted user to see your screen clearly. You can do this by going in to the Control Center in iOS 7. With earlier versions of iOS, you can also adjust the screen brightness by going to Settings > Brightness > Wallpaper and then making the adjustment. For even more practical ways to conserve battery power, read Tips For Improving Battery Life in iOS 7 by David Goodwin.

Ten Useful Tips: Part Two

In Part 2 of his “Top Ten” review, Scott discusses five additional tips, including ways to activate VoiceOver help and turn off automatic contracted braille. For more information, you can contact Scott at