Skip Navigation

If you couldn't see, how would you read? One way is by using Braille.

Braille is a system for reading that uses a combination of six raised or embossed dots to form the characters of the alphabet. The dots are arranged in two vertical columns with three dots in each column to form a cell.

. .
. .
. .

Letters and numbers are formed by embossing one or more dots within the cell. There are 64 different combinations of dots that can be formed within a cell. The letter "A" is represented by raising the dot in the upper left corner of the cell, for example.

To read braille, people who are blind or have visual impairments use their fingertips to determine the location of the raised dots. The average braille reading speed is about 125 words per minute. The combinations of raised dots provide a system so a person with a visual impairment can read music, play cards and other games, ride elevators, and read books, magazines, and other materials.

There are five major braille codes used in the United States. One type of braille is called English braille. This is used for written material using only standard letters, numbers, and punctuation marks. English braille consists of three grades of braille. When people are first learning braille, they generally begin with Grade 1 braille. This consists of the letters of the alphabet, numbers, punctuation marks, and a few special symbols.

Grade 2 braille includes all of the Grade 1 symbols plus 189 contractions and 76 short-form, or abbreviated words. The contractions are special braille characters representing groups of letters that appear frequently in English. Because a braille cell takes about two and a half times more space that a standard written letter on a page, contractions and short-form words are used to save space and paper. They also make it faster for the user to read.

Grade 3 braille contains more than 500 contractions. It is like a braille system of shorthand.

A second type of braille is the Nemeth Code. It is used for mathematical and scientific notation. It consists of technical symbols used in mathematics, statistics, physics, and chemistry.

Computer users also have a system of braille called the Computer Braille Code. This third type of braille represents the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII). ASCII is one of the standard formats for representing computer characters.

Braille Music Notation is a fourth type of braille. It is used for reading and writing music notation. It consists of all of the necessary symbols for transcribing instrumental, vocal, and choral scores.

Finally, there is the Code of Braille Textbook Formats. This fifth type of braille is a combination of the other four codes and is used in the production of all school textbooks in braille.

Braille is read by lightly moving the fingers from left to right across the line of Braille. Most people start out learning to read using cells smaller than the one represented above, and the regular Braille user reads much smaller cells.

Braille was first developed in 1824 by a 15 year old French student named Louis Braille. Mr. Braille, who was blind, wanted a better way to read and write. The raised dot system that he invented grew out of another code developed for sending military messages that could be read on the battlefield in the dark of the night. Braille has been improved and refined many times in the United States and other countries since it was first developed.

Braille is created by small pins that push the dots up from the back of the special heavy paper. Some people use a braille writer to print in braille. It has six keys to match to the six dots of the braille cell. Someone who wants to print in braille can press from one to all six keys at the same time to make a single braille character. When the keys are pressed on the braille writer, pins punch the dots from the back of the braille paper from the left to right.

Many people who are blind use a slate and stylus to take notes in braille. The slate is a metal guide used to make the dots in the cells for each character. The stylus is a tool used to punch the dots into the braille paper one dot at a time. Because the stylus is used on the back of the page that is read, the characters are written from right to left with the slate and stylus. When finished, the paper is turned over so the braille can be read from left to right.

Another way to produce braille is with a standard computer connected to a braille printer. Using braille paper, the printer can quickly put words from a computer onto a page to be read by a person who is blind.