Braille is an honored system of communication that consists of tactile symbols, enabling those with vision impairments and blindness to read and write in over 133 languages, including English, Spanish, Arabic, and Chinese.
By feeling the tactile symbols presented in the form of raised dots with their fingertips, people with vision impairments can discern the different patterns and combinations that represent various linguistic elements. Each Braille cell is comprised of six dots arranged in two vertical rows of three dots. Each braille character is composed of one to six dots arranged in a specific cell configuration. The dots are raised within the cell, creating a distinct pattern that corresponds to a specific letter, number, word, prefix, suffix, or symbol.
In the United States, the English Braille, American Edition code was previously used until it was replaced by Unified English Braille, which is now accepted in seven English-speaking countries.
Braille plays a crucial role in empowering people with vision impairments around the world to become literate in their native languages, providing them with the ability to independently access written information, engage in educational pursuits, and participate fully in society.
The history of Braille
Braille was invented by Louis Braille in 1824. Inspired by a military code, Braille created cells of raised dots representing letters, numbers, and music. Braille’s system allowed people who were blind to read and write independently. In the decades that followed his invention, Braille's method gained international recognition and became the standard for tactile communication. In 1868, the French Braille Authority (Conseil Supérieur de la Lecture et de l'Écriture) was established, marking an important step toward standardizing and promoting the use of Braille.
In 1916, the American Braille Press was established, which played a pivotal role in the adoption of Braille as the official system for people with vision impairments in the United States. 1952 saw the development of the Unified English Braille (UEB), which aimed to harmonize the English Braille codes used in different countries, to facilitate cross-border communication.
A half-century later, in 2013, Unified English Braille (UEB) was officially adopted by the United States as the standard Braille code, replacing the English Braille, American Edition (EBAE).
UEB is now accepted in multiple English-speaking countries, promoting consistency and facilitating international communication.
Braille’s syntax and structure
Braille has a specific syntax and structure for representing characters. It consists of dots arranged in a 2x3 vertical grid to form each braille cell. The dots are numbered from 1 to 6, with combinations of dots representing specific Braille characters. For example, The letter "B" is represented by dots in the top-left and middle-left positions (dots 1 and 2).
This is what it looks like in Braille:
The standard Braille system uses six dots, allowing for 63 possible combinations within a single cell. However, there is also a variation that utilizes eight dots for computer purposes. Using this method, the letter B looks like this:
In this eight-dot Braille representation, the raised dot in the top-left position (dot 1) and the raised dot in the middle-left position (dot 2) form the letter "b" in lowercase.
Uncontracted Braille vs. Contracted Braille
There are two primary forms of Braille writing: Grade 1 Braille (uncontracted Braille) and contracted Braille (Grade 2 Braille):
- Grade 1 Braille represents each letter, number, and punctuation mark with a separate Braille cell. It provides a one-to-one correspondence between the Braille characters and their print counterparts. Grade 1 Braille is typically used when learning Braille initially or for situations where exact letter-to-letter translation is necessary, such as in foreign languages or personal names
- Contracted Braille incorporates contractions and abbreviations to represent common words or letter combinations. This shorthand approach allows for more efficient reading and writing, as it reduces the space and complexity of the written material. Contracted Braille (Grade 2 Braille) is the more advanced form and is commonly used in everyday reading and writing once proficiency is achieved
When engaging with technology, both uncontracted and contracted Braille is employed due to its efficiency in certain applications, like passwords and user proficiency. Given that certain platforms are not always fully compatible with assistive technologies, computer braille is used in certain applications. Screen reader technology and electronic Braille displays often support Braille, enabling people who rely on them to access digital content. These tools are used by people with vision impairments to access websites and electronic documents.