Understanding Braille

Understanding Braille

Braille is a system wherein people who are blind or who have low vision can read by their fingers through a code of raised dots. It is not a language, rather, it may be written and read in many languages and is used all over the world in hundreds of native tongues as a means of literacy.

Who Invented It

The system was invented by Louis-Braille, a young man who attended the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris, first as a student, then later on as a teacher. As a student at that time, he found that books were hard to read, and difficult for individuals to write. He yearned for more books to read so he experimented and came up with ways to create an alphabet that was easy to read with the fingertips.

How Does the System Works

He created symbols that are formed within units of space known as cells. A full cell consists of six raised dots arranged in two parallel rows each having three dots. The dot positions are identified by numbers from one through six. Sixty-four combinations are possible using one or more of these six dots. A single cell can be used to represent an alphabet letter, number, punctuation mark, or even a whole word.

Categories of the System

There are two categories in the system. When every letter of every word is expressed, it is referred to as Un-contracted. Some books for young children are written that way and is less widely used for reading material meant for adults. When cells are used individually or in combination with others to form a variety of contractions or whole words, it is referred to as Contradicted. It is the standard system used for reproducing most textbooks and publications.

There are 180 different letter contractions used in Contracted-Braille. These are used to reduce the volume of paper needed for reproducing books and to make the reading process easier. Most children learn Contracted-Braille from kindergarten on, and Contracted-Braille is considered the standard in the United States, used on signs in public places and in general reading material.

How Does It Look Like


Just as books or magazines can be produced in different ways, the system can also be written in a number of ways. For example, slate and stylus is its equivalent to paper and pencil. This consists of a slate or template with evenly spaced depressions for the dots of the cells, and a stylus for creating the individual dots. With paper placed in the slate, tactile dots are made by pushing the pointed end of the stylus into the paper over the depressions. The paper bulges on its reverse side forming dots.

It is also produced by a machine known as a braillewriter. The braillewriter consists a space bar, a line spacer, and a backspace and has only six keys which are numbered to correspond with the six dots of a cell. Combinations of the braillewriter keys can be pushed at the same time since most symbols contain more than a single dot.

New Development

Through technological developments, software programs and portable electronic devices have been produced to allow users to save and edit their writing, have it displayed back to them and produce a hard copy via a desktop computer-driven braille-embosser. Through technology, children learn both the contractions and also how to spell words out letter for letter so they can spell and write using a keyboard.

Thanks to Louis-Braille, the system has become not only an effective means of communication, but also an essential avenue for achieving and enhancing literacy for people who have total or significant vision loss.