By Scott Davert, Coordinator: Technology, Research and Innovation Center, Helen Keller National Center for DeafBlind Youths and Adults

March 13, 2024


The National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS), Library of Congress, has been known for distributing materials to eligible patrons for many years in specialized formats. Not only is NLS known for their distribution of content, but it is also known for loaning equipment needed to consume the materials it makes available. While NLS has offered the downloading of both audio and braille content for years, they have not offered a way for patrons to consume the digital braille content until recently. Braille content, though available, required the user to own a braille device to read the material. NLS is now distributing two different models of braille displays to its patrons who request them. The model the patron receives will depend on which device their state library loans out. One way to get more general information about the NLS eReader program is to read this article from the APH Connect Center.

The state where I live is one of those which distributes the NLS Humanware eReader. I recently signed up to receive one, particularly since the braille display I typically use had to be sent back after 3 years of use for cleaning and a new battery. While the feature set does not encompass what I have available on my device, it has a lot to offer and was free of charge. With some modifications to my workflow, I’m finding that the Humanware NLS eReader works quite well as a back-up. Though I’m aware of the NLS eReader being distributed by Zoomax in other states, the state I live in only provides the Humanware device.

What’s in the Box?

Upon arrival, the box contained the eReader, USB-A to USB-C cable, USB to AC charging brick with a braille NLS label on it, the User Guide in hard copy braille, lanyard, and a cable allowing the connection of NLS cartridges to the eReader to load content which had been received by postal mail. Having an embossed copy of the User Guide has been very helpful as a reference. This is particularly beneficial for those who prefer not to operate two pieces of technology simultaneously but are not yet familiar enough with the eReader to begin using it.


The Humanware NLS eReader is a twenty-cell braille display featuring an ergonomic Perkins-style keyboard, 16 gigabytes of internal memory, and the ability to connect to external media through the USB-A port and SD card reader. This meant that when I needed to move data from my primary device to this one, I was able to put the SD card in the eReader and have all my files available. It is also capable of connecting up to 5 Bluetooth devices and 1 USB device for use with a screen reader. The eReader also offers Wi-Fi support so that a patron can download braille content from the NLS, NFB Newsline and Bookshare. The device also has the ability to keep track of the time and date. It measures 7.2 inches long by 3.3 inches wide by 0.8 inches thick and weighs 0.88 pounds. It is important to note that this is a “reader” and not a device intended for taking notes and performing other writing functions. Also worth noting, though, is that the NLS eReader can connect to screen readers such as VoiceOver, JAWS and NVDA, permitting the user to write with the Perkins-style keyboard.

Those familiar with the Brailliant BI20X or Chameleon 20 are already acquainted with the physical appearance of the Humanware NLS eReader. Positioning the device so the spacebars are closest to you, the layout is as follows: On the front edge from left to right are five buttons. First is the Up Thumb Key followed by the Left Thumb Key, which is about twice as long as the Up Thumb Key. In the middle is a circular shaped button known as the Select Key. To the right of the Select Key is the Right Thumb Key, followed by the Down Thumb Key. The Right Thumb Key is larger than the Down Thumb Key. The two larger thumb keys on the front of the device are what pan the display back and forth. The Up and Down Thumb Keys are used for navigational purposes that depend on the application in use and how they are configured. An easy way to remember which key performs which function is that each of the rectangular buttons has a line on that part of the button. For example, there is a raised line on the full top edge of the Up Arrow and one along the right edge for the Right Arrow.

On the left side you will find 4 items. Moving from front to back, you will encounter holes for a lanyard strap to be attached. Behind this, the user will find a USB-A port used for inserting a thumb drive. Continuing to explore the left side, the item behind the USB-A port is the power button. Pressing and holding it for several seconds will toggle the power, and a quick press when the device is on will either wake it up or put it to sleep. Behind the Power button is a USB-C port for charging or connecting the eReader to a computer.

Another hole is located on the right side of the device and is the closest thing to the user on that side. Behind this, the user will find two volume buttons and a 3.5MM headphone jack which is covered. These volume buttons and 3.5 MM headphone jack are used on the Brailliant and Chameleon but are not utilized with the eReader program.

On the top surface, the keys located closest to you are two spacebars. Behind these, you will find the twenty braille cells with a corresponding Cursor Routing Key behind each cell. Behind the Cursor Routing Keys, is a standard eight-dot Perkins-style braille keyboard. Along the back side of the display, you will find an SD card reader. The under-side of the Humanware NLS eReader has a braille serial number and 4 rubber feet to hold it in place. It’s important to note that though the Humanware eReader is in the body of a Brailliant, the software is not the same, nor are some of the keyboard shortcuts. For example, space with “m” on the Chameleon and Brailliant is used to go to the relevant context menu. On the Humanware NLS eReader, the user would press space with “h” to launch this menu and would press space with “m” to go back to the eReader’s main menu.


The reading experience on the NLS eReader is one that is highly customizable through the Settings application. Among the configurable options: the ability to turn on Airplane mode; toggle Wi-Fi; Bluetooth settings; software update; the ability to remove blank lines; the ability to have format markers inside files; whether to get vibratory or audio feedback of messages; whether the cursor should be visible; Word Wrap; the ability to change the functions of the Thumb Keys; Auto-scroll; Braille Reflow; one-handed mode; and a few other options. For an explanation of any of these settings, a patron can consult the already available User Guide on the eReader, or download it for consumption on another device. NLS has also made video tutorials which are available on Youtube.

File Manager

This application allows you to browse, open any supported files, delete, copy, cut, paste and search for a file within multiple connected drives. I found that, even when a drive contains hundreds of files, searching only takes a few seconds. You can only search for a file name, not its contents.  This application will display all files located on a drive and pressing dot 8 on a supported file will open it in the Book Reader. Supported file types include BRF, PEF, TXT, HTML, DOCX, NISO (daisy text only), PDF, and RTF. Absent from the supported file types are DOC files, which are an old Microsoft Word format not commonly used in 2024.

Getting Content

There are many ways in which one can transfer files to the Humanware NLS eReader. It’s even possible to do so without connecting your eReader to the internet. If a patron prefers, they can receive their NLS material on specialized cartridges. After the patron connects the cartridge with the included USB-A cable, the files on the cartridge will be automatically copied to the eReader’s internal memory. After this is complete, the eReader will report that the copy process was successful.

Using the File Manager, a patron can not only manage downloaded content, but also copy material to and from SD cards and thumb drives. When connecting to a PC, the NLS eReader will show up as a connected drive, so that files can be transferred directly from your computer. When acting as an external drive, the eReader behaved in the same way as an externally connected memory card or drive. Transfer speeds were quick, and no set up needed to occur. There is also an option to disable this behavior so that the eReader will not show up as a drive. This can be disabled by going to the device’s internal settings menu, then user settings, and turning off the option called “MTP” which stands for Media Transfer Protocol. For those running Mac OS, you will need to install an application called Mac OS Fuse for the eReader’s content to show up in Finder.

On Wi-Fi, the eReader can connect to NLS Bard, NFB Newsline, and Bookshare. All 3 services require a user name and password to get access. If the user is unable to log in with their provided username and password, it is also possible to create a text file with the username and password which can then be transferred to the eReader. Though I did not find any challenges entering the information on the eReader in uncontracted braille, I’ve read of some issues individuals have encountered. Thankfully, NLS has given patrons another way to get the information into the device. Similarly, if the patron struggles to enter the correct connection information, there is an export connection feature which can allow them to import the connection information using the same method. Below is a description of using each of the online services along with my feedback.


Within the Bookshare application, you will find the option to configure your account and to choose your preferred format. I recommend DAISY for its increased navigability. After logging in to Bookshare, you can search by title, author, keyword or to perform a full text search. There are also options to browse by most popular, recently added and category. Once you perform a search or browse through one of the options listed, you will be presented with a list of titles. To get more information, select the title to be presented with options to download, learn the author, or read the synopsis.

I find it convenient to search and download content internally, though it would be even better if the author was shown in the list of results without having to press enter to get more information. This is especially true when looking for a common title of a book, where the quickest way to find what I want is by finding the author. However, if that author has many books, this can also slow down the hunting process.

NFB Newsline

The first option in this application is “configure account,” which not only allows you to log in, but gives you the option to set how often you would like your list of publications to be updated. There is also an option to set whether old issues of publications will be deleted when new ones arrive.

If you already have a list of favorites, they will automatically be added to the list of content you will download. You can add other publications by selecting “manage publications” from the applications menu and then selecting the periodical to which you want to subscribe. Press space with e when done. Though I enjoy the ability to sync publications, it’s been my experience that the NFB Newsline service is not always available for use on the eReader. In some circumstances, the connection issue appears to be with specialized devices such as notetakers and braille displays which have the support integrated. On a couple of occasions, the eReader reported that the service was “unreachable”, though pulling up the website or using the iPhone application still worked reliably.


Both the book and magazine collections are available, but not braille music. You can browse the most recent and most popular books by category. There are also options to search the collection, browse your download history, browse by most recently added magazines and to browse your download history. Just like when searching for material on Bookshare, you are only presented with the title of the books in your search results and must press dot eight to get more info including the name of the author. Since the downloaded content is in .BRF format, you will not have access to the additional navigation options available from the DAISY content offered on Bookshare and NFB Newsline. I found downloading content from the NLS BARD service convenient and have enjoyed using it for magazines.

Putting The “Read” Back In eReader

The Book Reader application can be launched from the main menu or by pressing dot 8 on a supported file. Most files will load within a second of being selected, though some longer books require a little wait time. For example, I downloaded On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, a very large book. Loading the DAISY text version after downloading took roughly 25 seconds. The .BRF version of the same book loaded within 5 seconds. However, in this case, I’m willing to wait since the DAISY content permits me to have more navigation options. Specific to this book, it allows me to quickly jump from program to program when I want to browse for new information. You can also jump quickly between sections and articles when viewing content downloaded from NFB Newsline. Sections are typically at heading level 2, while individual articles are usually at heading level 3. When you have set the navigation to what you prefer, using space+ J, you can then press the Up and Down Keys to jump by that chosen element. Only those navigation options available for the currently open book will be shown. Possibilities include sentence, paragraph, level, percentage, and bookmark. It would be handy to have hot keys to jump to specific elements within the open book. Instead of having to go to a menu to jump directly to the next heading level 3, for example, it would be much quicker if there was a hot key to do this. You can also activate auto scroll when reading. I found that the eReader retained my speed as time went along, and that it continued to do so after roughly an hour of reading. 

As long as the eReader hadn’t been in the file the user was reading at the time the battery dies, that it retained the reading position reliably. Speaking of retaining places in written material, the patron also has the ability to set multiple bookmarks within a file. This is an option I wish I had while in college, it would have made jumping directly to content much more efficient. Overall, I enjoy reading on the eReader and the large number of connectivity options available.

Connecting For Use as a Braille Display

According to the User Guide, the screen readers supported include VoiceOver for Apple products, NVDA and JAWS. It is possible to connect up to 5 Bluetooth devices and 1 USB device at a time and then switch between any of the desired connections. I found that when switching among connected devices, that the eReader would often display what was on  the screen of the last connected device until something is done to wake up the connection in focus. Pressing space with dot 1 or any other command to send something to the newly connected screen reader will bring up the content from the channel the user has switched to. NVDA 2024.1, JAWS 2024, iOS 17.4, and Mac OS Sanoma were used to conduct this evaluation. Though TalkBack with Android was not mentioned as being officially supported yet, I also tried this using a Pixel 7.


Android 13 brought the ability for some braille displays to connect through USB and \\came with the option to connect braille devices to TalkBack. The standard used by the eReader is one established in 2018 which was agreed to by Google, Apple, Microsoft and many AT vendors. As of this writing, Google has failed to develop any sort of Bluetooth compatible solution for this standard. As such, there is no way the user can connect the eReader to Android. USB connectivity is available, but my testing found that the USB connection was not stable. When the connection dropped, the eReader had to be restarted to resume internal operation.

iOS 17.4

I was able to connect to my iPhone 14 Pro Max without any challenges. Most of the braille display commands for iOS are supported, though there are a few exceptions at the time of writing. The NLS eReader is experiencing issues surrounding text selection commands, getting dot 8 to enter a new line or activate the send button and some of the keyboard emulation commands are not functioning as expected. For more specific info about these challenges, and more information about braille on iOS in general, you can check out this guide from AppleVis. I updated regularly with the most recent update being in November 2023. For those who prefer to listen to the information in audio form, I have produced a 3-part series on braille displays with iOS for the Braillists Foundation which also has transcripts available. I’m sharing these resources since I did not find any detailed information in the User Guide of the eReader.

As mentioned above, I was able to utilize the NLS eReader to offset the issue I had with not having the display I would normally use available. This has largely been possible due to the robust braille support implemented by Apple. I am able to use the eReader for all aspects of my life as they pertain to iOS devices. That means having access to online banking, the ability to manage email, making phone calls through text relay, recognizing photos and so many things are still accessible to me as a DeafBlind person, even though my primary display is out of action, I am not.

Mac OS

As long as VoiceOver is running, the eReader is connected through USB and is in the braille display interface, the Mac and braille display should start working together almost instantaneously. I did find that the Bluetooth connection, as with many braille devices running on Mac OS, was a bit unstable. When the eReader would stop responding, pressing Command with f5 to unload, and then again to reload VoiceOver typically resolved these issues. This happened less frequently over USB, though the same fix was also effective. The User Guide doesn’t provide much information pertaining to using the eReader on the Mac, however this support article from Apple may assist in getting started with VoiceOver and braille displays in general. There are also linked articles on this page which go in to greater detail regarding using a braille display with an Apple computer.


Since I have the screen reader configured to auto-detect displays that are plugged in, after starting NVDA and the braille display application on the eReader, it worked without any further intervention. Typing in UEB worked well most of the time, but there were some instances where contracted braille input was not functioning correctly. For example, the contraction for TH and ING were simply not working until I restarted NVDA. Though I wish there were more keyboard commands available, it is also possible to customize the experience for yourself. For more information about how to utilize the eReader with NVDA, a user can consult the NVDA User Guide. For those connecting over Bluetooth with Windows 11, if the NLS eReader does not show up when searching for devices under Bluetooth Settings, there is another step to this process which may need to happen first. Instead of immediately selecting “Add device,” progress through the

list of options until you reach “Bluetooth device discovery.” With newer versions of Windows 11, this is set to “default.” Click on the drop-down box and choose the “Advanced” option and then the eReader should show up.


The support for braille input with commands through the NLS eReader is much stronger than the offering from NVDA. Although getting a complete list of these commands appears to be challenging, they are available as a guide for using screen readers for the Brailliant. Many, though not all, keys which include the Command Keys are found on the Brailliant and not on the eReader. The same process outlined above with NVDA may be necessary to set up when pairing through Bluetooth.

Conclusion And Personal Remarks

The fact that I am reviewing a braille display which is free to all patrons of NLS speaks volumes regarding progress with access for those who are braille readers. Many books are now readable in a very small package and can be read as desired. Further, since this device can connect to several screen readers, it extends this access to mainstream devices such as those found on Apple or Microsoft. Though the documentation could be more readily available and easier to find, this level of access is nothing short of a huge step forward toward making our society a more inclusive place for individuals who rely on braille as their access method. When these eReaders are combined with other technologies such as those found among the connection options, they provide a level of access many could only dream of a few years ago. I commend all who were involved with making this program a reality and am happily benefiting from it. The battery life seems to be around 12 hours with fairly heavy use, making the NLS eReader not only good for access to books and magazines, but also a hub for productivity when needed.

For more information on this program, individuals should contact their Local cooperating library. You can find which library to contact on NLS’s Find Your Library page.

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