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, or a code. The reason it's not classed as a language is because when it's spoken out loud, the language remains the same.

Braille has revolutionised the way blind and visually impaired people interact with the world. In this blog post, we will dive 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, in 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, although I am trying to learn to read it by touch and I honestly have so much respect for blind people who learn it all by touch.

Let's go through some examples and learn the difference between grade one and grade two braille. 

Uncontracted, or grade one braille, is the most basic, it's effectively one letter = one braille cell. This is what all braille users learn first. Each word is spelt out, letter for letter, and as you can imagine this takes up quite a lot of space. 

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

And that's where contracted braille, or grade two comes in. In grade two, 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. More advanced users of braille would progress to grade two once they'd mastered grade one. 

Numbers are super easy because all you do is add the number indicator (dots 3,4,5 and 6) before letters a - j, with j being 0.

Number 2023 with the braille equivalent beneath it

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. There are also braille codes for other languages and I can create documents, cards and labels in any language where a braille code exists. 

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.

How Do You Read Braille?

Braille readers can read braille in different ways, as stated some, like me, will read it with their eyes, but blind people will read it with their fingers and there are various ways they can do that.

My mum, who has been reading braille for over 50 years reads braille using six fingers at once, which is just incredible, she can read braille so fast, I used to quiz her as a child because I didn't believe she as really reading and I'd make her read it out loud. Read my mum's blog post on why she loves braille.

Other braille users will read using both hands, but one hand will stay at the beginning of the line as a guide and other users will simply use one finger to read. How do you read braille? Let me know in the comments or tweet me @DottyAbtBraille.

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!

More braille related blog posts:

10 Braille Gifts

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A really informative read,Hayley.

Katie Whiteman

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

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