Feel Words Come to Life: Refreshable Braille Displays and the NLS eReader Program 

person sitting in a library.

Imagine a book, but instead of ink on smooth paper or pages rustling, you have a row of dots beneath your fingertips. This is possible thanks to refreshable braille displays, and revolutionary sleek and portable tools empowering people who are blind or low vision to read and write. The National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) is putting these portable devices into the hands of readers, and as with all other NLS offerings, they are free! 

What is A Refreshable Braille Display? 

Refreshable braille displays are sleek, portable devices that can connect to computers, tablets, and smartphones. They come in a range of cell configurations and prices (ranging from 14 to 80 cells and costing roughly $1,000 and up). The NLS eReaders are 20-cell displays that will fit in most backpacks or purses. The displays feature Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, long-lasting battery life, and charge via USB-C. They feature a row of cells containing six tiny pins that rise and fall, producing electronic braille.  

What is the National Library Service for The Print Disabled (NLS)? 

The National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) is a free program administered by the Library of Congress. Through a network of cooperating libraries nationwide, NLS provides a vast collection of free reading material in braille and audio formats to eligible patrons. 

How Does One Sign Up? 

How can someone access this treasure trove of books and magazines? Here’s how it works: 

  1. Register with your local braille and talking book library. Registering is your gateway to the NLS program and its resources. 
  1. Meet the eligibility criteria. The NLS serves individuals with temporary or permanent visual low vision, blindness, or a physical, perceptual, or reading disability that prevents them from using regular print materials. 
  1. Receive either the HumanWare or Zoomax 20-cell refreshable braille display.  
  1. Retrieve the reading material. Simply browse the catalog, download your chosen material, and let the reading adventures begin! 

You can download books directly to your eReader, save material to an external device (SD card or USB flash drive), or connect to a computer, smartphone, or tablet to access even more content. You can read braille material in the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) app, which is available on Android and iOS devices. For account users, the Zoomax and HumanWare displays can also access material available from BookShare.org and NFB Newsline. No more waiting for braille books to arrive in the mail or struggling with bulky volumes. Now, you can have instant access to a world of words at your fingertips. 

Benefits of Refreshable Braille 

The free NLS eReader program is not just about providing technology; it’s about breaking down barriers, increasing literacy, and fostering independence. With a refreshable braille display in your hands, you can: 

  • Read at your own pace. 
  • Enjoy a wide range of reading materials, from fiction and nonfiction to music, poetry, cookbooks, biographies, academic texts, professional journals, and more. 
  • Stay connected to the world through news and current events covered in magazines and newspapers. 
  • Boost literacy and sharpen your braille skills. 
  • Experience the joy of reading, wherever you are. 

Ready to Start Reading? 

Whether you are a beginning braille reader or someone who longs for the convenience of digital access to information, an NLS eReader may be for you. It provides access to a vast library, empowering you to read independently and enriching your life with the joy of a good book, one refreshing braille cell at a time. So, if you or someone you know is eligible, contact your local braille and talking book library. Take the first step towards a world of braille-filled adventures, and feel words come to life under your fingertips — letter by letter, word by word. 

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 About Katie Frederick

Katie Frederick is the Digital Content Manager for VisionAware, part of the APH ConnectCenter. She has worked in federal and state government, higher education, and nonprofit leadership. Katie advocates for people who are blind or low vision.