Refreshable Braille and the Web

Many people have not had the opportunity to see someone use a refreshable Braille device to access the web. I recently videoed Bruce Maguire describing how he uses the internet with a refreshable Braille display. He also demonstrates finding a book on the Amazon site. Transcript of the video is at the end of this document.

Bruce has been using Braille since he was 5 years old. He also has impaired hearing and his preferred method of accessing the web is to use a screen reader in conjunction with a refreshable Braille display. The refreshable Braille device contains a strip of rubberised material under which, is a row of pins that rise and fall in response to the content of the web page. These pins form the Braille characters, and as the user moves around the content of the page, they constantly refresh the line of Braille characters to read what comes next.

Video: Bruce talks about refreshable Braille

Video Transcript

TITLE CARD: “Bruce talks about refreshable Braille”

Bruce: I’m Bruce Maguire. I’ve been using Braille all my life as a blind person and when I use the internet and computers generally I prefer to work in Braille. Mainly because it gives me a greater sense of engagement with the text and the content, I can reflect on it, I can re-read it as much as I want and I can put my own interpretation on what I am reading rather than having a synthetic voice or even a human voice do it for me. I also have a hearing impairment so it is easier for me to use Braille rather than synthetic speech. In this little demonstration today I will turn the synthetic speech of my screen reader on so that you can hear what I am doing as I navigate around the page.


Bruce: The refreshable Braille display, at the heart of it is essentially a lot of pins that move up and down to form the Braille characters in response to the impulses the computer sends them based on what’s on the computer screen.


Bruce: So under my fingers I can feel Australian Human Rights Commission, and if I get the …


Screen Reader: Heading level 1, link graphic Australian Human Rights Commission, heading level 1.

Bruce: And the speech says effectively the same thing. The speech gives you a little more information in terms of; it says that it’s a heading. Umn, I can have my refreshable Braille display give me the same information as well. Now as I use the arrow key I can move down the page to see what’s there …


Screen Reader: Blank, same page link skip to content, alt plus 2. Blank, search alt plus 5.


Bruce: I can move quickly from one element of the page to another, for example from one heading to another …

Screen Reader: After 30 years PML finally in “colon” a great first step, heading level 3 link. About the Australian Human Rights Commission, heading level 2.


Screen Reader: General information, heading level 2,

Bruce: And, in each case, I’m feeling under my fingers the same text as what is being announced by the speech synthesizer, so I can turn the synthesizer off, which is what I normally do, and just use the Braille to navigate around.


Bruce: Braille in some ways; in some areas it is faster and more efficient to use than synthetic speech for navigating web pages, and in some cases it’s a little slower particularly if you want to read long documents, because the Braille display gives you 32 characters at a time. So that, when you’ve read the first chunk of 32 characters you have to press one of the keys on the Braille display to read the next chunk of 32 characters.


Bruce: So, I am on a line here which says;

Screen Reader: Working towards an Australian society where human rights are for everyone, everywhere, every day.

Bruce: Now, so that’s the text of this particular line on the page. Under my fingers on the Braille Display I can read, “Working towards an Australian …” And I have to then press a key to go to the next chunk which is “society where human rights are …”


Bruce: “for everyone, everywhere, everyday.”


Bruce: I use the internet for many purposes including online grocery shopping, browsing book and music stores. As a blind person one of the things that I found most frustrating over the years is that I can’t just walk into a shop and browse the aisles and as I am an avid book collector that’s been a particularly difficult thing to adjust to, but when the internet developed and we have online stores such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble and in Australia Fishpond, being able to browse and buy online has been a great thing. I also use the internet for work related purposes, accessing government information, accessing disability related websites.

TITLE CARD: “Shopping Online”

Bruce (voice over): I’ve turned the speech off now, what I might do is demonstrate how I would buy a book. So the Amazon site has just come up and I know that …


Bruce: because under my fingers on the Braille display I can read, “Amazon, online shopping for electronics, apparel, computers, books, DVDs and more.” And having used this site before I know I can just press a key on the keyboard to take me to the first field. And under my fingers I read all departments.


Bruce: So I want to arrow down to books. And I want to look for books by an author called Anita Roddick who founded the Body Shop. TYPES And, has written some very interesting books about the importance of advocacy. So I type Anita Roddick on the keyboard and under my fingers I can verify that I have typed what I think I’ve typed by feeling Anita Roddick.


Bruce: Now we’ve got the search results, and the first book I notice here is “Business as Unusual, My Entrepreneurial Journey, Profits with Principles” by Anita Roddick.


Bruce: Paperback May 30 2005. I can buy new for $12.65, or that’s retail price, and the Amazon price is $10.36, or there’s 51 used from $1.59 and I can get it if I am in the US by Tuesday May 12 if you order in the next 22 hours and choose 1 Click Shipping.


Bruce: So that’s the kind of thing that I can do with the Braille display quite efficiently and as I mentioned, being able to do this sort of thing is still something that I find a wonderful thing because being an avid book collector I can now fuel that addiction to my heart’s content.



  1. Thanks for sharing.

    It’s always nice to see/read/hear about real user experiences with different assistive technologies. I may be able to test with a screen reader, but I could never (well, not never of course) do tests with a braille device.

  2. Very informative. Thank you!

  3. We know how important accessibility is but its not until you see real people using assistive technology like this that we can apply the theory in practice. More videos like this would help web developers make the connection between their work, the technology and the people accessing their sites.

  4. Gonzalo González Mora

    Watching these kind of videos is really inspiring and makes me want to do my best in what concerns web accessibility. I have never seen a video of a refreshable Braille display before, thanks!

  5. Very cool!!! I have never seen this demonstrated before, many thanks.

  6. This was a fascinating video. Thanks much for sharing.

    I too had not really seen refreshable Braille displays in action.

    I’m reminded of, when I was in a meeting awhile back and talking about the need for greater web accessibility, somebody actually made a sarcastic quip like, “Yeah, because blind people use the Internet”.

    I think I might send this video to that person.

    Thanks again!

  7. Really awsome, i always had a passion on making such useful devices and was thinking on similar lines since a couple of months. Now as i browsed thru net i found this avaiable.. far more superior than what i thought of. Nice one

  8. Just another reason to make web fully compilant and accessible.
    It’s great to see how technology can make things a bit easier for many people.

  9. Jenifer Simpson

    nice to see a captioned video clip on this very important subject

  10. Belatedly found the exchange from a W3C list in my inbox so bumping you back out into the cybersphere.. 1000’s of emails a week, and I’ve maybe a tiny handful of other times seen mention of this topic in general so a *huge* thank you for sharing..

    Peace and best wishes from Talking Rock.. :)

  11. hi, this is so important. As a webdesigner I appreciate the importance of creating an accessible web for all. Videos like this really help reaching this target.

  12. Excellent. Thank you for sharing.

  13. It’s a great video especially for someone who has never seen a device like that in action. As a web designer I’m interested in building accesible websites and it’s great to see how important it is to allow people with disabilities to access the entire content of a website.

  14. Wow, that was fascinating. As a college instructor, I look forward to using this video to illustrate accessibility to my students – I’ve been using a screenreader demo, but this offers a few options and really conveys how possible accessibility can be.

  15. how to communicate with deafblind people

  16. Great! Very interesting!

  17. En tout cas l’handicap n’est plus une barrière pour le web et c’est à encourager.

  18. If you are going for best contents like me, only
    pay a quick visit this web page all the time since it
    offers feature contents, thanks

  19. You post interesting content here. Your blog deserves much more
    traffic. It can go viral if you give it initial boost,
    i know very useful tool that can help you, just search in google: svetsern traffic tips

  20. That is good :)

  21. EXTRENA Fifa game, advancing its mobility Playable

  22. Perfect!! The accesibilidadweb is possible

  23. I see you don’t monetize your website, don’t waste your traffic, you can earn additional bucks every month
    because you’ve got hi quality content. If you want
    to know how to make extra $$$, search for: best adsense alternative Wrastain’s tools

Leave a Reply