What is Braille?

Braille is the system of touch reading and writing that utilises raised dots to represent the letters of the print alphabet for persons who are blind or visually impaired. The Braille system also includes symbols to represent punctuation, mathematics and scientific characters, music, computer notation, and foreign languages.

How is Braille taught?

At The Royal Blind School in Edinburgh pupils start to learn Braille by strengthening their fingertips. Students play with items such as macaroni and peas in a tray and try to sort them using their fingertips. They then progress to learning actual Braille that is taught by their teachers, printing their own stories on Brailling machines. Finally as teenagers they can progress to Braille notebooks that are a really fast and professional means of writing and transcribing Braille.

How was Braille Invented?

Louis Braille was born in Coupvray, France, near Paris on January 4, 1809. At the age of 3 he was playing with a sharp awl in his father’s harness making shop, when he accidentally poked his eye, and subsequently developed an eye infection causing total blindness. He attended the local school until 1819, when he was awarded a scholarship to the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris where he was the youngest student. While there, Braille yearned for more books to read. He experimented with ways to make an alphabet that was easy to read with the fingertips. He started by working on a reading code with a special tool he developed called a slate and stylus. In 1824 at the age of 15, he invented the 6-dot Braille system that evolved from the tactile “Ecriture Nocturne” (night writing) code invented by Charles Barbier de la Serre to send military messages that could be read on the battlefield at night, without light. In 1829 he published his work in Method of Writing Words, Music and Plain Songs by means of Dots for Use by the Blind. He then spent the majority of his life working on this tactile reading and writing system.

Learning Braille

Braille is a system of transcribing print so it can be read by touch. Braille is now mainly used by blind people but the original idea was for soldiers to be able to read at night without putting themselves in danger by using any light. Cells
The basis of the Braille system is known as the Braille cell. The cell is comprised of six dots numbered in a specific order. Each dot or combination of dots represents a letter of the alphabet and there are 63 different cells not counting the space. The positions are normally numbered starting at the top of the left-hand column as shown opposite.

The two main forms of tactile Braille are embossed paper Braille and refreshable Braille displays (RBDs) in which an electronic signal results in pins moving up and down to make a row of cells. Braille readers use RBDs as computer monitors.
A natural question is what the Braille cells mean. However, the cells have no intrinsic meanings; since there is only one standard Braille alphabet, the cells mean different things depending on which Braille Code is in use: math, music, Japanese, etc.
Memorizing the dots
One way to learn the alphabet in literary Braille is to memorise the dot patterns for the first ten letters, a-j, shown by the simulated or inkprint Braille cells below.

Simulated Braille Cells
(The shadow dots in empty positions are for sighted persons and are not used in embossed Braille.)

The dot patterns for the next ten letters, k-t, are the same as the first ten but with an additional dot in position 3. The dot patterns for the letters u,v,x,y, and z are the same as the letters a-e with additional dots in positions 3 and 6. The letter “w”, dot pattern 2-4-5-6, is out of alphabetical order because the French alphabet did not have that letter when Louis Braille invented the Braille alphabet in 1829.

The picture below shows you how the dots are arranged in the Braille cell for each letter of the alphabet.

Complete Alphabet
Braille does not have a separate alphabet of capital letters as there is in print. Capital letters are indicated by placing a dot 6 in front of the letter to be capitalised. Two capital signs mean the whole word is capitalized

Braille numbers are made using the first ten letters of the alphabet, “a” through “j”, and a special number sign, dots 3, 4, 5, and 6.

Numbers Comma
Larger numbers only need one number sign.
The comma in braille is dot 2.


Information courtesy of:

American Federation for the Blind [ www.afb.org ]
Perkins [ www.perkins.org ]
World Blind Union [ www.worldblindunion.org ]

Why not try some Braille games or send secret messages at http://www.nationalbrailleweek.org/