A Brief Review on Reading and Writing Braille

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How to Read and Write Braille

Reading and Writing Braille Unwraps the Written Word and Brings Independence

Braille code enables blind and partially sighted people to read and write through touch. People often mistake braille as its own language. The fact is braille is a system of reading and writing in your language without the use of sight. It’s produced in several languages including English, French, Spanish, Chinese, German, Arabic, Italian and Hebrew.

Image of a braille cell with each dot numbered

Reading Braille

The braille alphabet was invented by Louis Braille (1809-1852), a French teacher of the blind. It consists of patterns of raised dots arranged in cells of up to six dots in a 3-by-2 configuration. Each cell’s dot arrangement represents a braille letter, numeral or punctuation mark. Many frequently used words and letter combos also have their own single-cell pattern contractions.

Braille Code Versions:

  • Grade 1: consists of the 26 standard letters of the alphabet and punctuation. It’s mainly used by people who just started reading braille.
  • Grade 2: consists of the 26 standard letters of the alphabet, punctuation and contractions. The contractions are employed to save time space because a braille page cannot fit as much text as a standard printed page. Books, signs in public places, menus, and most other braille materials are written in Grade 2 braille. The abbreviated contractions also make reading and writing braille much faster.
  • Grade 3: is used only in personal letters, diaries, and notes. It is a kind of shorthand, with entire words shortened to a few letters. Codes have also been established for music braille and mathematical notation, called Nemeth braille.

I could give you a long list of examples like “the letter “A” is written with only dot 1” or “the letter “D” has dots 1, 4, and 5” but that would be pretty useless & boring without visual references. Instead of doing that, you can simply take a look at the braille alphabet below.

Image showing the Braille Alphabet and Numerals - Created and owned by Braille Works

Reading and Writing Braille Capitalization

Braille doesn’t have a separate alphabet of capital letters like regular print does. Capital letters are indicated by placing a dot-6 in front of the letter to be capitalized. Two capital signs mean the whole word is capitalized.

Image showing the braille character signifying a capital letter. Created and owned by Braille Works.

Reading and Writing Braille Numerals

Braille numbers are made using the first ten letters of the alphabet, “a” through “j”, with a special number sign in front (dots 3, 4, 5, and 6). A = 1, B = 2, C = 3, etc.

Image showing the braille character signifying a numeral. Created and owned by Braille Works.

Writing Braille

These days most braille isn’t written at all; it’s usually typed onto paper using a braille typewriter. Machines like the Perkins Brailler are great for braille writing and are easy to use but sometimes too expensive for individuals to purchase. For the sake of this article I’m going to focus on manual braille writing; which is the first thing most braille readers are taught. The slate and stylus are tools used to write braille manually and can be compared to paper and pencil. A slate is a metal or plastic guide that opens with a hinge on one end and is available in many different shapes and sizes. The stylus is a small tool; only about 3 inches long, with a metal pointer at one end and a wooden or plastic knob/handle at the other end. Heavy, card-stock paper is placed into the slate and the stylus is used to punch holes in the paper. The resulting holes are the raised dot pattern that will be read by touch.

Image showing a slate and stylus

You have to be a pretty proficient braille reader to have any success using the slate and stylus. I think that has a lot to do with why a lot of readers prefer a typewriter or braille transcription computer software that’s printed using an embosser. Let me explain…

If you’re sighted then you’re well aware that writing is done from left to right, and the letters are written in the same order they will be read. Too bad braille isn’t that easy! When using a slate & stylus to write braille, you must write the cells in reverse order; right to left. This way when the paper is removed from the slate and flipped-over for reading; the raised dots (braille cells) will be in the correct order. Confusing huh? This is why I say most people prefer to stick with a braille typewriter. It’s easier to learn and use than the slate & stylus; unless of course you’re a seasoned vet when it comes to reading and writing braille.

Learn more about accessible documents

Mass Produced Braille

My team and I here at Braille Works produce braille in large volumes on a daily basis. We produce large format print & audio as well but I should stay on topic here.

It would take us forever; literally forever, to transcribe everything using a slate and stylus! Or braille typewriters for that matter. So the question remains; what’s the best, most efficient way to produce braille materials in mass quantities? There are two widely used methods; pressed braille and embossed braille. Find out which method is less time consuming & more cost-efficient in an earlier article of mine, Embossed Braille vs. Pressed Braille.

Image showing a side-by-side view of a Braille Press and a Braille Embosser with the words "Braille Production - Then and Now" displayed.

If you’d like more info on specifics of the braille transcription process, check out my latest guest post for Easter Seals Disability Services, “Ever Wonder How Restaurants Get Their Menus in Braille?

After some hard work, reading and writing braille can be achieved by children and adults alike. It’s an outstanding invention and it’s truly here to stay. Here are a few resources for anyone who wants to become a certified braille reader and writer:

If you’re a business owner or a decision maker at your company; feel free to contact Braille Works anytime for your alternative format material needs. We specialize in business-to-business braille, large print & audio transcription services for your blind and visually-impaired customers. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ as well. Drop us a line sometime; we’d love to hear from you!

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This post was written by Jeff Frcho

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