Braille is a tactile system of raised dots that represent letters of the alphabet which can be used by persons with vision impairment.
Braille is named after its creator, Frenchman Louis Braille, who lost his eyesight due to a childhood accident. Braille is a tactile writing system, a code not a language, used by people who are blind or visually impaired. Braille characters are small rectangular blocks called cells that contain tiny palpable bumps called raised dots. The number and arrangement of these dots distinguish one character from another. Braille users today can read computer screens and other electronic supports using refreshable braille displays. They can also write braille using the original slate and stylus or type it on a braille writer, a portable braille note-taker, or on a computer that prints with a braille embosser. There is a braille code for nearly all foreign languages including Chinese, French, Spanish, Arabic, and Hebrew. There are also braille codes for mathematics and music.
In order to read braille, a person gently glides their fingers over paper which has been embossed with braille code. For note taking purposes, a person uses a pointed instrument to punch dots into paper that is held in a metal slate. The punched holes appear as dots that are readable on the other side of the paper. Braille is, to a person who experiences vision loss, what printed words are to persons who are sighted. Braille provides access to both information and contact with the outside world.
The Braille alphabet is the building block for language skills; it is a means for teaching spelling to children who have vision loss, as well as the most direct means of contact through written thoughts of others. Books written in Braille are available in every subject area, from modern day fiction writings all the way through mathematics, law, and music. Braille is being used for everything from labeling of objects to the taking of notes. Braille adapted devices to include playing cards, watches, games, and even thermometers are examples of just some of the many both recreational and practical uses of braille in the world today.
Braille was invented centuries ago by Louis Braille (1809-1852). Louis Braille was a French teacher of persons who were blind. He created a system of patterns of raised dots that are arranged in cells of up to six dots in a 3 X 2 configuration. Each cell represents a letter, number, or punctuation mark; some letter combinations or words that are used more frequently have their own cell patterns.
English Alphabet in Braille
There are various versions of Braille in existence today:
Grade 1 Braille consists of the 26 standard letters of the alphabet and punctuation, and is only used by people who are first starting to read Braille.
Grade 2 Braille consists of the 26 standard letters of the alphabet, punctuation, as well as contractions. The contractions are used to save 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.
Grade 3 Braille is only used in personal letters, diaries, and notes. Grade 3 Braille is a kind of shorthand, with entire words shortened to a few letters.
In the modern world, Braille has been adapted to write in a number of different languages, to include Chinese. Braille is also being used for both mathematical and musical notation. The invention of Braille has led to new ways to assist persons with disabilities such as ADA ramps, also referred to as, 'Braille for feet.'
Through the use of Braille, persons who are visually impaired have the ability to both review and study the written word. They have the ability to become aware of various conventions to include spelling, punctuation, paragraphing, and footnotes. More than anything, persons who are visually impaired can access a wide-variety of reading materials, from educational and recreational written material, to practical manuals. They can access regulations, contracts, directories, insurance policies, cookbooks, and appliance instructions, for example - all of which are important parts of daily adult life. Through the use of Braille, visually impaired persons have the ability to pursue both cultural enrichment and hobbies through board and card games, hymnals, and musical scores.
As with any new language, learning Braille takes a certain amount of time and practice to learn.
Braille is commonly taught to persons who are visually impaired as part of a vision loss program. Braille is also taught through schools within communities. Sighted volunteers transcribe printed texts into Braille.
Volunteers pursue approximately eight months of training before becoming certified Braillists. The training they complete conforms to standards which are set in cooperation with the Braille Authority of North America. Additional training is required before a person can braille educational materials for students, or before they may specialize in transcription of music into braille. The average reading speed for a person using Braille is about one-hundred and twenty-five words per minute; although speeds of up to two-hundred words per minute are possible.
All around America, dedicated volunteers work in communities produce braille materials for persons with visual impairments.
Volunteers produce materials which serve to supplement both magazines and books that are produced in quantities by nonprofit organizations for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) of the Library of Congress. All of these volunteers have completed a lengthy and detailed course on Braille transcription that results in an award by the Library of Congress and a Certificate of Proficiency in the appropriate Braille code. The activities these volunteers pursue include transcription of printed material into Braille, binding Braille books, and duplication of copies. Volunteers provide persons with vision impairments in their communities with essential materials that might otherwise be unavailable.
The services these volunteers provide are used by local school systems, the NLS, state departments, and the nationwide network of cooperating libraries that distributes both magazines and books through the NLS program. The National Braille Association (NBA) is an organization of volunteers that provides both students and other people with Braille materials they request. Becoming a Braille volunteer requires intellectual curiosity, training, patience, meticulousness, and the ability to work under pressure. It also requires the ability to both understand and follow directions. The rewards of being a Braille volunteer include an immense sense of accomplishment, as well as learning a completely new system of both reading and writing.