What is Braille?

What is braille? Let’s find out!

Firstly, let's start by saying Braille is not a language, it's a tactile writing system, more like a code.

Braille has revolutionised the way blind and visually impaired people interact with the world. In this blog post, we will delve into the origins of Braille, why it’s important, and highlight the wide range of individuals who rely on this remarkable system to access information and communicate effectively. 

Origins of Braille 

Braille, as we know it today, was created by Louis Braille, around 1824, when he was just 15 years old! Louis Braille lost his eye sight during a freak accident when he was a toddler, whilst watching his Dad in his workshop, he injured one eye which caused infection, which then led to the other eye, resulting in him becoming completely blind.  

But let's go back a bit, because braille, in another form was actually created by somebody called Charles Barbier, a member of the French army. Now there were rumours that Barbier created this reading system so he could communicate with his comrades during the night, but a book that Barbier released in 1815 states that he actually created it for blind people.  

Louis Braille was a student at The Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris and had used Barbier's system, however, realising it had limitations, Braille came up with a new version, a more compact version, with punctuation and numbers, this is the system we know today.  

So although Louis Braille does seem to get most of the credit for creating braille, without Barbier's original system, and the tools he provided, it's uncertain whether braille, as we know it would exist today. 

How Does Braille Work? 

Braille uses a grid of small raised dots arranged in specific patterns. Each pattern represents a letter, number, punctuation mark, or even a musical note. The braille cell, comprising six dots in a rectangular arrangement, is the fundamental unit. By combining various dot configurations, a vast array of symbols can be represented. Users can either read the braille by touch, which of course is what blind people would do, or they can read by sight, which is what I do! One day, I will learn it by touch but honestly I find it so hard, I have so much respect for blind people! 

Let's go through some examples and learn the difference between grade 1 and grade 2 braille. 

Uncontracted, or grade 1 braille, is the most basic, it's effectively one letter = one braille cell.

 The letters a, b, c with their braille letters beneath

Numbers also fall under grade 1, numbers are super easy though because all you do is add the number sign before letters a - j, with j being 0.

Number 2023 with the braille equivalent beneath it

This is what people learn first, and every word is spelt out, which as you can imagine, takes up quite a lot of space! 

So that's where contracted braille, or grade 2 comes in. In grade 2, we have what are called contractions, where common words, or letter groupings have their own braille cell, sometimes with an indicator beforehand.  

The words more, ever, world and ness with their braille equivalents.

This is faster to read and takes up far less space than uncontracted braille.

Braille can get very technical and can be used in maths and music for example.

Most English speaking countries now use Unified English Braille (UEB) but this wasn't always the case, the UK used to use Standard English Braille, which was different to American braille. Now everybody in English speaking countries can read the same braille.  

Why Is Braille Important? 

Braille plays a crucial role in enabling blind and visually impaired individuals to read, write, and access information. It allows them to comprehend books, newspapers, signs, menus, and more. By learning Braille, visually impaired individuals gain independence and autonomy, opening up more opportunities for learning.

This was one of the reasons I wanted to create my range of braille cards, I wanted to give blind and visually impaired people the independence to enjoy a greetings card completely on their own, without any assistance from a sighted person. So although some have said my cards look boring, that's ableism talking I'm afraid! Because my cards, to a blind person, are not boring. They're heartfelt, thoughtful and inclusive. They can read the front of the card, they can read the braille message inside and they even know what colour the card is because I now add that to the back of every card.

Sadly braille isn't as popular as it once was, as technology advances, blind people turn to that to read the news, or books, or find out what colour their socks are, although I'm not sure how braille would help with that last one!

However, I don't think braille will ever die out completely and I'm on a mission to make it more mainstream, even in my own small way! 

Let me know if you have any questions about braille!

Back to blog

1 comment

I found it quite interesting when you informed us that braille uses a grid of small raised dots arranged in specific patterns that represent a letter, number, punctuation mark, or even a musical note for blind and visually impaired people to interact with the world. I want to make my law office accommodating to everyone, even the PWD, so I was thinking of getting braille signs to use in the office building soon. I’ll take note of this while I look for a sign company in Castle Hill to hire for the braille signs we need for my law office in NSW. https://www.hillmontbraillesigns.com.au/

Clare Martin

Leave a comment