What Is It?
What Does It Mean To The Blind?
Braille is a system of reading and writing by touch
used by the blind. it consists of arrangements of dots
whichmake up letters of the alphabet, numbers and punctuation
marks. The basic Braille symbol is called the Braille
cell and consists of six dots arranged in the formation
of a rectangle, three dots high and two across. Other
symbols consist of only some of these six dots. The
six dots are commonly referred to by number according
to their position in the cell:
There are no different symbols for capital letters in
Braille. Capitalization is accomplished by placing a
dot 6 in the cell just before the letter that is capitalized.
THe first ten letters of the alphabet are used to make
numbers. These are precede by a number sign which is
Thus, 1 is a number sign a; 2 is number sign b; 10 is
number sign a-j and 193 is number sign a-i-c:
Some abbreviations are used in standard American Braille
in order to reduce its bulk. These must be memorized,
but most Braille readers and writers find them convenient,
rather than a problem. Braille is written on heavy paper,
and the raised dots prevent the pages from lying smoothly
together as they would in a print book. Therefore, Braille
books are quite bulky.
There are two methods of writing Braille, just as there
are two methods of writing print. A Braille writing
machine (comparable to a typewriter) has a keyboard
of only six keys and a space bar, instead of one key
for each letter of the alphabet. These keys can be pushed
separately or altogether. If they are all pushed at
the same time they will cause six dots to be raised
on the paper in the formation of a Braille cell. Pushing
various combinations of the keys on the Braille writer
produces different letters of the alphabet and other
Writing Braille with a slate and stylus compares to
writing print with a pen or pencil. The stylus is used
to push dots down through the paper, while the slate
serves as a guide. The Braille slate can be made of
metal or plastic and is hinged so that there is a guide
under the paper and on top of it. A person writing Braille
with the slate and stylus begins at the right side of
the paper and end the line on the left, since the dots
are being produced on the underside of the paper. Of
course, the Braille reader reads from left to right,
for the dots are then on the top side of the paper.
Although this may seem a bit confusing, it need not
be at all troublesome, since both reading and writing
progress through words and sentences from beginning
to end in the same manner. The speed of writing Braille
with the slate and stylus is about the same as the speed
of writing print with the pen or pencil.
Braille was first developed about 1820 by a young Frenchman
named Louis Braille. He created Braille by modifying
a system of night writing which was intended for use
on board ships. He did this work as a very young man
and had it complete by the time he was about 18. He
and his friends at the school for the blind he attended,
found that reading and writing dots was much faster
than reading raised print letters which could not be
written by hand at all. The development of this system
by young Louis Braille is now recognized as the most
important single development in making it possible for
the blind to get a good education.
It took more than a century, however, before people
would accept Braille as an excellent way for the blind
to read and write. Even today many people underestimate
the effectiveness of Braille. While tapes and records
are enjoyable, Braille is essential for note-taking
and helpful for studying such things as math, spelling
and foreign languages. It is a matter of great concern
to members of the National Federation of the Blind that
fewer blind people now have the opportunity to become
good Braille users than twenty five years ago.
Why is this? Many professionals in work with the blind
stress recorded media with blind children. Many persons
who become blind do so in old age and are not encouraged
to spend the time and make the effort needed to develop
the new reading and writing skills that depend on feeling
rather than seeing. There are even Braille teachers
who do not expect speed and accuracy of blind students.
The students then learn Braille as a chore and a drudgery.
Experienced Braille readers, however, read Braille at
speeds comparable to print readers-200 to 400 words
a minute. Such Braille readers say that the only limitation
of Braille is that there isn't enough material available.
they want more books produced by Braille presses, more
books produced by volunteer Braillists in their homes
and more advances in the computerized production of
One of the goals of the National Federation of the Blind
is to help people appreciate braille for the efficient
system it is. The main difference between print and
Braille is simply that print is mean to be read with
eyes, while Braille is meant to be read with fingertips.
Fingers feel dots quickly and accurately; eyes see loops
and lines of ink. In both cases it is the brain that
processes and reacts to the raw data sent to it by the
fingers or the eyes.
This article was first written in Braille and transcribed
into print to answer the questions of sighted people
who cannot read Braille.
If you have further questions about Braille or blindness,
write to the:
National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230