Braille: What you need to know

13 November 2018

Like countless other advancements over time, the invention of braille involved a good pinch of luck and trial and error.

Braille as we know it today, a combination of raised bumps in cells consisting of two vertical rows of three, was invented in the early part of the 19th century by Frenchman Louis Braille.

Today, there are still many misconceptions regarding braille and those who have not come across braille may not know much about it. Below are six interesting facts about the invention and use of braille.

Teenage genius

Braille was invented by a teenager: After losing his vision at a young age, Louis Braille attended a school for the blind in Paris. By the age of 15, he had invented a fairly extensive braille code. World Braille Day is celebrated each year on 4 January, Louis Braille’s birthday.

Louis Braille wasn’t the first to attempt a tactile communication system: Louis Braille was inspired by a previous system proposed by Artillery captain Charles Barbier. While Louis Braille’s system is relatively simple consisting of cells made up of six dots, Barbier’s system was much more complex using cells containing 12 dots. One of the reasons Barbier’s system failed was that each cell was too large to be easily deciphered via touch.

Louis Braille shows sometimes a young perspective is what a problem needs. In 2015 Connor McLeod, 12 years old, successfully fought for tactile features on Australian bank notes. You can read more here

Braille is big

Several Braille volumes usually make up one printed book. Braille can take up considerably more space than the printed word. As a result, one printed novel might become multiple volumes of braille instead of just one book. For example, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is comprised of 16 braille volumes.

Not all braille is the same

Braille is used in many different languages. As well as reading and writing in English, There are also a range of braille codes across languages including languages like Japanese and Russian which do not use the Roman alphabet.

It’s also used for more than reading and writing text. There are also braille codes which enable braille readers to use mathematical and scientific symbols and read and write music notation.

There are also different grades of braille regularly used by people who are blind or have low vision. Grade One braille is commonly used for simple tasks like short messages or labelling items and is also used by those who are new to braille. Grade Two braille includes dot patterns which represent “contractions” and aims to shorten words and condense the space needed for braille text. Grade Two braille is used by proficient braille readers.

The braille of the future

Advances in technology are leading to advances in braille. Developments in technology have led to the invention of refreshable braille displays. Refreshable braille displays convert digital files, like ebooks, into braille one line at a time onto a small device similar in size to a keyboard or small tablet. Each braille cell on the display consists of nylon pins which are electronically controlled to move up and down to display a braille version of the digital text. Refreshable braille displays mean that braille readers do not have to carry around multiple braille volumes to make up one printed book.

It’s not for everyone

Not all people who are blind can read braille. Some people who are blind lack the tactile sensitivity to read Braille and rely more heavily on audio material and screen reading technology.

Different across the pond

Braille codes have not always been consistent between English-speaking countries: Unified English Braille (UEB) has been a relatively recent development aiming to standardise braille codes between countries including Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. Before UEB, countries had their own braille codes with rules that were often conflicting.

Interested in the world of braille? We can help: