What iS Braille

Braille is a system of raised dots arranged in cells. Any combination of one to six dots may be raised within each cell, and the number and position of the raised dots within a cell conveys to the reader the letter, word, number, or symbol the cell represents. There are 64 possible combinations of raised dots within a single cell. Due to the varying needs of braille readers, there are three different grades of braille.

Braille was developed by Louis Braille in the beginning of the 19th century. 6 dot Braille letters, common punctuation marks, and a few symbols are displayed as raised 6 dot Braille cell patterns read by using a fingertip to feel the raised dots. The 6 dot Braille alphabet, the method for representing braille numbers, and some braille punctuation marks are used in all languages that share the Roman alphabet. There are variations of 6 dot Braille in various Roman alphabet languages. Representation of punctuation marks and differences in the meanings of other 6 dot Braille cells are commonly used to represent special characters and/or common letter combinations.

Grade 1 Braille

In the first of the grades of braille, grade 1, each possible arrangement of dots within a cell represents only one letter, number, punctuation sign, or special braille composition sign - it is a one-to-one conversion. Individual cells cannot represent words or abbreviations in this grade of braille. Because of this grade's inability to shorten words, books and other documents produced in grade 1 braille are bulkier and larger than normally printed text. Grade 1 braille is typically used only by those who are new to learning the grades of braille, but as of the early 2000s a new movement was in place among elementary school teachers of braille to introduce children with sight difficulties to grade 2 braille immediately after teaching the basics of grade 1 braille.

Braille Basic Letter Braille Basic Numbers Braille Punctuation Braille Special Characters

Grade 2 Braille

Grade 2 braille was introduced as a space-saving alternative to grade 1 braille. In grade 2 braille, a cell can represent a shortened form of a word. Many cell combinations have been created to represent common words, making this the most popular of the grades of braille. There are part-word contractions, which often stand in for common suffixes or prefixes, and whole-word contractions, in which a single cell represents an entire commonly used word. Words may be abbreviated by using a single letter to represent the entire word, using a special symbol to precede either the first or last letter of the word while truncating the rest of the word, using a double-letter contraction such as "bb" or "cc", or removing most or all of the vowels in a word in order to shorten it. A complex system of styles, rules, and usage has been developed for this grade of braille.

Grade 2 Braille

Grade 3 Braille

The last of the grades of braille, grade 3, is essentially a system of braille shorthand. Because it has not been standardized, it is not used in publications. Instead, it is typically used by individuals for their own personal convenience. It contains over 300 word contractions and makes great use of vowel omission. In addition, the amount of spacing between words and paragraphs is decreased in order to shorten the length of the final document. It also sometimes substitutes combinations of punctuation symbols for words. For a list of grade 3 symbols, click Here.

Slate and Stylus

A slate and stylus is a tool for writing braille, a tactile reading and writing system used by the blind.

slate and stylus

There are numerous tools which can be used for writing braille, but a slate and stylus could be considered the most basic, and also the oldest; akin to a pad and paper for sighted people. This writing tool is also very inexpensive, making it accessible to the blind in regions of the world where funds for more expensive braille writing tools like typewriters are not available.

The stylus in a slate and stylus is designed like an awl, and it punches small divots into a piece of paper. By punching out a specific pattern, the user can create a braille letter; although the use of a stylus to take down notes might seem time consuming, people get the hang of it very quickly. The hinged slate is designed to hold a piece of paper steady while the user punches it, with a bottom half to punch against and a guide on top to assist the user in creating braille characters.

Each braille letter is formed in a cell which has six possible spaces for a dot, creating a myriad of combinations. To read a letter, the user places his or her fingertip on top of a cell; braille readers can get quite adept with practice. The slate has a series of cells with scalloped edges to guide the stylus into place for the purpose of creating letters. Depending on the design, the slate may only have one row of cells, or many; the slate is mounted on a hinge so that paper can be slipped between a backing sheet and the cell template.

In order to use a slate and stylus, the writer must work backwards from right to left so that when the paper is flipped over, the dots can be read. In some cases, a stylus is hollowed out so that it creates a raised dot on the front of the piece of paper, allowing the user to write from left to right. While learning to use a slate and stylus can take time, this writing tool can be incredibly useful for the blind. It is cheap, highly portable, quiet, and easy to use once you are accustomed to it; many blind people also enjoy using a slate and stylus because it gives them a sense of independence.

Many companies manufacture slate and stylus sets, often at very low costs to make them accessible to all. In schools for the blind, students are often taught to use a slate and stylus along with other assistance tools like braille keypads. For blind students who are attending general schools, or people who have been blinded later in life, charitable organizations often offer classes in using assistance tools.

Manual Braille Writer

Braille writers are the braille equivalent of typewriters. Unlike typewriters, they are still going strong despite the advent of the personal computer. Many individuals who do a significant amount of writing in braille prefer to use a braille writer.

The Perkins Brailler an example of a manual braille writer.

One noticeable difference between a braille writer and a typewriter is that a braille writer may have as few as seven keys, one for each dot of a six-dot braille cell plus a space key. Like typewriters, braille writers come in manual and electric versions. In a manual braille writer, dots are embossed on the paper mechanically as a direct result of the typist's pressure on the keys, while in an electric model the keys require only light pressure to send an electrical signal that causes the machine to emboss a dot. Some people prefer the lighter touch allowed by an electric braille writer, while others prefer the solid feeling of a mechanical key and find that it is too easy to press the wrong key on an electric keyboard.

Most braille writers use 8.5 by 11 inch braille paper, which is fed into the machine one sheet at a time. Braille paper comes in heavy and lightweight grades, both of which are heavier than ordinary ink print paper since braille paper must be sturdy enough to retain raised dots as many readers move their fingers over them. The heavier grade of paper is recommended for use with a braille writer.

Braille writers generally have a paper guide that can be moved into position to hold smaller paper sizes in place, including note-size paper or index cards. Some models are designed for extra-wide paper (e.g., 11 ½ by 11 inch). Other special models include the following:

  • Large cell braille writers, which are designed to produce jumbo braille for individuals who have trouble distinguishing the dots of ordinary braille.

  • One-handed braille writers, with keys arranged to make one-handed operation possible, including models for left-handed and right-handed use.

  • Models with longer keys for use by individuals with limited dexterity. It is also possible to buy extension keys to convert a standard model.

  • Some electric braille writers have editing functions and the capacity to store electronic file versions of documents that have been written on them. These features may be quite welcome to blind students who are asked to rewrite their papers, and to others who go through several drafts in writing.

    Electronic Braille Notetakers

    Braille notetakers are small, lightweight, portable devices with Braille keys for entering information. Braille notetakers are much like a computer, except that they have a fraction of both the cost and the memory. Braille notetakers use a speech synthesizer, if someone would like to hear what has been typed, or a Braille display, which can then be read to see what has been typed into the Braille notetaker.

    A example of an electronic notetaker.

    The Braille notetaker user also has the option of entering the information onto the Braille notetaker, and then can transfer it to a larger computer with more memory. This is why some students may like using a Braille notetaker in the classroom. In addition, this can be used in a reversed manner. If a professor downloads information (ie: handouts) onto the Braille notetaker, the student can read the handouts with the Refreshable Braille Display or speech synthesizer.

    In reviewing information, a Braille notetaker can use a speech synthesizer or Refreshable Braille Display When printing, the user can opt to print the information onto either a Braille printer or, if there is a program installed on the computer that can change Braille to English, print onto a regular inkjet printer, so what the user has typed can be read by those who read print.

    The Braille notetaker can also provide basic organizational tasks, such as a calendar and they can also be used to send/receive email messages. There are also accessories that can be bought for Braille notetakers, depending on what type of Braille notetaker you purchase. Such accessories include a graphing program or internet access.

    One major downfall with Braille notetakers is that there can be errors when changing from Braille on the Braille notetaker into the computer. One would need to use voice output to make sure no errors have occurred and to make any needed corrections.

    Another option to Braille notetakers are notebooks, which have a standard keyboard with Braille on the keys. This is a lightweight notebook that has the ability to type into the notebooks’s memory and then the user hears what has been typed through speech output. There is no Braille read-back option. This is much like a computer in that spell check is available, along with basic organizational tasks, such as a calendar, calculator and address book. Information can be downloaded through another computer hookup, or through a disk.