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Hardware Overview: Alva Refreshable Braille

Picture of hands using Alva Refreshable Braille
A refreshable Braille display is a piece of hardware that provides Braille output from a computer. The 8-dot refreshable Braille cells change, or refresh, according to the part of the screen that has the computer's attention. The display is used with a screen reading software, such as JAWS for Windows.


Picture of student using AlvaRefreshable Braille at the ATAC
Introduced in 2001, the Alva 570 Satellite Pro is the first desktop model designed specifically for use within a graphical interface that gives users the advantage of a wide Braille line, but in an elegant and ergonomic profile. Slightly longer than a standard QWERTY keyboard, the unit delivers virtually the same amount of information as a conventional 80-character display but with less reach and hand motion. The user is given maximum control directly from the Braille display, with a significant reduction of hand movement between the Braille display and keyboard.


Other Features

Satellite Keypads

Twin Satellite keypads are conveniently positioned at either side of the Braille array. One set of Satellite keypads (each sets consists of six keys) performs computer keyboard navigation such as the directional cursor keys, tab and shift tab, control tab and control shift tab, escape, backspace and enter. The second set of Satellite keypads provides common speech commands such as read the content of a window, menu or dialog, announce the window title or status line, read continuously in a document, and interruption of speech output. The Satellite keypads allow easy and effective screen reader/Windows control in both speech and Braille of Web pages, document windows, spreadsheets and custom applications-all directly from the Braille display. By minimizing hand movement to and from the Braille display and computer keyboard, maximum productivity is achieved.

Double Touch Cursor

Above each Braille cell are two silicone pad-switched Double Touch Cursors. The Double Touch Cursor simplifies cursor/caret control and allows for retrieval of contextual information by the way of speech and Braille integration. The first row of Touch Cursors routes the cursor or generates a left mouse click at the position shown in Braille, which corresponds to the location on the monitor. The second row of touch cursors is used to request speech feedback (when used with a speech synthesizer) such as font, font style, size and color. Additionally, names given to graphics are announced and a right mouse click can be generated at any location to invoke a Windows context menu.

Flexible Status Cell Definition

Depending on which screen reader software is being used, three status cells provide additional information such as text attributes, vertical or horizontal focus position, Braille display position within a window, control types in a dialog and screen reader mode. The status cells can be positioned at the left or right side of the Braille array or be turned off altogether to maximize the number of Braille reading cells.

Company Information:

Alva is now part of the Optelec Tieman Group in The Netherlands. The company manufactures low-vision products such as video magnifiers, and Braille displays and keyboards. Their Web site contains information about the company, their products, and links to organizations involved with blindness and low vision.