Braille Defined – What is Braille?

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Braille is one of the most recognizable forms of accessible documents. It may also be one of the most misunderstood. For instance, many think that it is a language people with blindness learn. However, it is actually a code for transcribing printed text. It is not a different language. In fact, many languages can be transcribed into Braille translations of that language.

The words "What is Braille?" displayed over a Braille document.

What is Braille?

It is a system of touch reading and writing for persons who are blind, in which raised dots represent the letters of the alphabet. It allows people who are blind to read, write, and communicate without needing eyesight. Represented through a series of raised bumps that correlate to letters, number, and punctuation marks, and joined together to form words and sentences, it is read by moving the hand or hands from left to right along each line.

What does it look like?

If you’ve ever come across a sign in a public building that has a row of raised dots along the bottom side of it, then you’ve encountered Braille. Many people have noted that the number of characters is often different than their visual alphabet counterpart; this isn’t a mistake.

Contractions are sometimes used. For example, just one character can represent the word “the”. Contractions might be confusing for someone trying to do a one-to-one translation of Braille text, but this technique saves time and space for its readers.

Braille comes in different grades.

Grade 1

Example of Grade 1 Braille with the words "You can do it!" in both print and braille.

Those who are new to Braille often use Grade 1. It is a one-to-one conversion; each arrangement of dots represents one letter, number, or punctuation sign.

Grade 2

Example of Grade 2 Braille with the words "You can do it!" in both print and braille.

Grade 2 features symbols that represent a common word, suffixes, and prefixes of words, and contractions of words. This is the most popular form of Braille today.

Who invented Braille?

Refined in the late 1800s by Louis Braille, the tactile reading system was originally developed by a French army captain named Charles Barbier to enable his officers to read battle commands during the night without the aid of candlelight. At eleven years old, Louis was inspired to modify Charles Barbier’s “night writing” code in an effort to create a more efficient written communication system for fellow blind individuals. Louis spent the better part of the next nine years of his life developing and refining the system of raised dots that has come to be known by his name, Braille.

Over time, the world gradually accepted it as the fundamental form of written communication for individuals with blindness, and today it remains basically as he invented it.

What is the Braille alphabet?

The Braille alphabet is exactly what you’d think. A group of unique symbols, each representing one of the twenty-six letters of the alphabet. The only differences between the Braille alphabet and any other traditional alphabet is that it must be embossed onto paper rather than printed, and it is read with fingers rather than eyes.

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What is Braille paper?

Braille paper is a special kind of paper designed for embossing. The paper is thicker and more sturdy than regular print paper. Embossers press Braille dots into the pages, so embossing onto normal print paper compromises its integrity.

Braille paper has a specific level of quality that’s excellent for the production of documents, books, and letters. It needs to be strong enough to ensure that the dots remain raised and firm for an extended period of time. Using paper that is too thick will leave you with shallow dots and therefore illegible. It can also damage embosser print-heads over time. On the other hand, using paper that is too thin will cause holes to appear throughout the pages.

3 photo collage of braille documents.

How is it printed?

There are various ways to print Braille, but the most common is embossing. An embosser is a machine that physically presses small dots on to paper so that they are raised and can be read, a process known as “embossing.” Computer programs tell the embossing machine exactly where to place each dot so that the finished product is precise and easy for the reader to understand. Modern embossers are compatible with both Windows and Mac.

Braille embossers come in many shapes and sizes. As companies develop and release new models to the public, they continue to improve in speed and efficiency. The embossers we use here are industrial grade, high-quality, commercial volume machines that help us to serve the needs of some of the nation’s largest companies and even the U.S. government.

What is a Braille reader?

Braille readers are devices that people connect to computers or mobile devices. Another name for these readers is refreshable Braille displays. These displays allow people with blindness to read websites and digital documents.

The main component of a Braille reader is a display area that uses tiny plastic pins that pop up and down through holes on a flat surface to display different Braille characters. The connected computer or mobile device transmits the proper information to the reader so it displays the right letters and numbers.

Some readers also have built-in computing power. This means that they can both operate alone as well as through a computer connection. These models are typically called Notetakers. Most notetakers feature an onboard voice so users can choose to read Braille with or without voice, or just listen to the voice by itself.

Who uses it?

People with visual impairments commonly use Braille for reading and writing. It’s a method of accessible communication that empowers the user to have independence.

From birthday cards, wedding invitations, art exhibits, to personal letters, and every kind of book you can imagine, you can convert almost any printed communication to Braille. It’s a way to communicate in writing for millions of people, so it’s no wonder that people want and need accessible documents of all kinds.

For businesses, the most common types of document requests that we help create are:

Learn more about accessible documents

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This post was written by Braille Works

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