hand reading a black braille sign with the braille alphabet

June 21, 2021

Most people may think braille is just raised letters on a page, but braille is much more complex! Braille is, in fact, a tactile reading and writing system that is used by people who are blind or visually impaired. Here are the top 10 things that you should know about braille.

  1. Braille is not a language since it doesn’t have a spoken form. It’s a tactile code that is used for reading and writing. Braille can be produced in different languages, such as Chinese, Spanish, Arabic and Hebrew. All English-speaking countries around the world use Unified English Braille. There are also codes for braille music, computer braille and math braille (Nemeth or UEB math braille).
  2. Braille started as a military code called “night writing.” Developed in 1819 by Charles Barbier and the French army, this system allowed soldiers to communicate at night without speaking or using candles. Fifteen-year-old French schoolboy Louis Braille (who had lost his vision due to a childhood accident) learned about the code and developed a more usable, streamlined version of the braille alphabet used today.
  3. Braille has 63 possible combinations of raised dots used to represent the letters of the alphabet, numbers, punctuation, and contractions. These dots are arraigned in a cell of two columns, each with 3 dots – the dots on the left side of the cell are numbered from top to bottom 1, 2, 3. The dots on the right side of the cell are numbered 4, 5, 6 from top to bottom. This way, each dot has its own unique number. A capital letter is distinguished by dot 6 placed before a letter, while numbers are distinguished by dots 3, 4, 5, 6 placed before a configuration of dots representing a letter.
  4. There are two types of literary braille: contracted and uncontracted. Uncontracted braille is the most basic form of braille. It uses the 26 letters of the alphabet and it is used by children or adults who are first learning to read and write in braille. Contracted braille is a more complex form typically learned after learning uncontracted braille. It is a system of “shortcuts” where one letter might represent multiple letters or even an entire word. These contractions are letter combinations or other braille dot symbols that represent portions of words or whole words without spelling out each letter in the word.
  5. A sighted person may read around 300 words per minute. An efficient braille-reading method uses two hands to move across the page. Using the index finger of both left and right hands to read with a scissor pattern, a braille reader can reduce the time it takes to read a passage of the text.
  6. Some of your favorite products may have design elements suited for people with blindness or visual impairments. This includes incorporating tactile design and embossing in their packaging that assists individuals in distinguishing between products.
  7. Braille is available in digital form. Refreshable braille displays (connected by a cable or Bluetooth technology) provide access to information on a computer screen by electronically raising and lowering different combinations of pins in braille cells. A braille display can show up to 80 characters on the screen and can be refreshed by the user moving the cursor around on the screen, using the command keys, using cursor routing keys and screen reader commands.
  8. Since beginning operations in 1914, Clovernook Center for the Blind & Visually Impaired is now the world’s largest volume braille producer, producing an average of 30 million braille pages per year.
  9. Individuals who are blind or visually impaired can receive free books and magazines in braille or audio formats through the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) and the American Action Fund. Students who qualify can also receive braille textbooks and other accessible educational materials at no cost through the Federal Quota system administered by the American Printing House for the Blind.   
  10. Individuals who are blind or visually impaired may or may not read braille for a variety of reasons. Most people who are visually impaired have some functional vision and may choose to read print instead of braille or may use both print and braille depending on the task. There are many factors to consider when choosing literacy media for a person with a visual impairment. Advancements in computers and other technologies have enhanced other options for accessing and producing text besides reading and writing braille. Research shows that using a textual literacy medium, such as braille or print (vs. auditory options only), provides a critical advantage for students in learning grammar, language, math and science. National and state braille challenge competitions have been created to encourage students to improve their braille reading and writing skills.

Interested in learning more about braille? Check out our downloadable braille alphabet guide here.

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