How Refreshable Braille Enhances Braille Literacy

Braille is an essential tool for promoting literacy among persons who are blind. Use it at home, at work, and in the classroom to access documents, web pages, email, and assignments.

Braille literacy improves scholastic success and increases employment opportunities. Statistically, 90% of employed individuals with a visual impairment read and write braille.

What is Refreshable Braille?

Though braille is still widely produced on paper, it constantly evolves to meet technology demands. Refreshable braille displays provide access to text shown on a computer screen. These devices can contain up to 80 braille cells on a given line, each including pins that raise or lower to form braille characters.

As you navigate text with a screen reader using keyboard commands, the characters displayed reflect the position of the active cursor, hence the term “refreshable braille.” A braille display benefits users by:

  • Providing direct access to information
  • Allowing verification of spelling, formatting, and spacing
  • Offering a quiet alternative for reading and writing

Braille displays can connect to a computer via USB or Bluetooth. Pair them to a smart phone to access text messaging, social media, and other features.

How is Freedom Scientific Contributing to Braille Literacy?

In 1998, Blazie Engineering acquired Telesensory’s Power Braille line of refreshable braille displays. The Power Braille had been in existence for over a decade and was the leading line of braille displays in the US and UK.

Blazie Engineering  was known for their Braille ‘N Speak, Type ‘N Speak, and Braille Lite line of note takers, the latter of which included refreshable braille. They merged with Arkenstone and Henter-Joyce in 2000 to form Freedom Scientific, and promptly began work on new braille products.

The same braille cell used for the Braille Lite was incorporated into the Pac Mate note takers, which offered 20 or 40 braille cell options. The first generation of the Focus braille displays were rolled out in the early 2000s, and included 44, 70, and 84 cells. The second generation only offered 40 and 80 cell configurations.

In 2009, the first Focus 40 Blue display was released. It provided standard USB connectivity, but added Bluetooth to increase portability and versatility.

Another generation of the Focus 40 followed in 2012, with the palm-sized Focus 14 Blue following later that year. The Focus 80 Blue was rolled out in 2013, rounding out the Focus family of displays.

Historically, the consumer cost of a braille display started at around $4,500, making it difficult for individuals to purchase. In an effort to create more affordable products and increase braille literacy, Freedom Scientific developed a more cost-effective braille cell to use in new braille displays. In 2005, the price of the Focus 40 was reduced to $3,000, making braille more accessible to customers.

The Focus braille displays are widely popular because of their seamless integration with JAWS, small size, and robust features. Pair them with the JAWS screen reader for even more versatility.

The Focus 40 is also used in the ElBraille, a compact device that combines the flexibility of a Windows 10 OS with JAWS and refreshable braille. This complete solution provides access to applications and information from anywhere.

Visit the Focus Blue Family page to learn more about these displays, and the ElBraille 40 ® 5th Gen page for additional information on this all-in-one portable solution. For training on a device, see our Braille training page.

Join us throughout January as we celebrate Braille Literacy Month with live webinars on our braille products. Access training webinars on the Freedom Scientific braille products on our Webinars On Demand page.

Do you have training questions about our braille products? Leave a comment on this blog post or send an email to