Braille is a tactile writing system used by the blind and the visually impaired. It is traditionally written with embossed paper. Braille-users can read computer screens and other electronic supports thanks to refreshable braille displays. They can write braille with the original slate and stylus or type it on a braille writer, such as a portable braille note-taker, or on a computer that prints with a braille embosser.
Braille is named after its creator, Frenchman Louis Braille, who went blind following a childhood accident. In 1824, at the age of 15, Braille developed his code for the French alphabet as an improvement on night writing. He published his system, which subsequently included musical notation, in 1829. The second revision, published in 1837, was the first digital (binary) form of writing.
Braille is not that hard to learn, especially when the student is young. Children who learn Braille early usually become extremely fast and competent readers. Children have the advantage over adults – they learn more quickly and expect to make mistakes as they go along.
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. You can learn about Braille by reading this page and following the links.
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.
(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.
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.
Larger numbers only need one number sign.
The comma in braille is dot 2.
Information courtesy of National Braille Week.
If you would like some ideas of great ways to include Braille into playtime with your child then please click here, Nationalbrailleweek.org have lots of fun ideas to help develop Braille skills.
The Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness website also have lots of great tips for early introduction of Braille and a list of activities from tactile awareness to the beginning of Braille to contracted Braille symbols.
To have a look a what Amazon have to offer in the Braille Toys sector click here.
If you would like some advice on teaching early Braille skills, have a look at Wonderbaby.org’s ‘Beginning Braille Skills‘ article for lots of great tips.
Changes to the Braille Code
Accessible formats are alternatives to printed information, used by blind and partially sighted people, or others with a print impairment. These accessible formats include large print, audio, braille, electronic text, and accessible images amongst others.
These accessible formats must be of a high quality if they are to be legible, usable and meaningful to the people they’re intended for.
Unified English Braille (UEB) is a braille code developed by the International Council on English Braille (ICEB) to bring together several existing Braille codes into one unified code. This includes the literary code, mathematics code and computer code.
UEB has been adopted in all the major English speaking countries including the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Nigeria and South Africa. In October 2011, UKAAF decided to adopt UEB as the official braille code in the United Kingdom. UKAAF is working hard to facilitate the transition from Standard English Braille (SEB) to UEB and will be continually adding to the information and resources on this page.
If you would like more information about the UEB code please visit the UK Association for Accessible Formats website, they also have a very helpful FAQ section that may help explain the changes to the code better.