The information presented within this glossary entry is aimed at website owners seeking to learn the ropes of web accessibility. Technical elements are described in layman’s terms, and, as a rule, all topics pertaining to the legalities of web accessibility are presented in as simplified a manner as possible. This guide has no legal bearing, and cannot be relied on in the case of litigation.

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:

â ƒ

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:

Image of the letter b in braille using eight dots.

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.

Braille-related requirements have been incorporated into several leading anti-discriminatory legislations worldwide to ensure equal access and opportunities for individuals with vision impairments (such as low vision). Here are some key legislations that incorporate Braille-related instructions:

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Enacted in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against members of the disability community, ensuring their full and equal participation in various aspects of life.

Under the ADA, employers and business owners need to provide and invest in accessible means of communication. To that end, Braille materials, signage, and documents must be made available in many public places, educational institutions, and other areas

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act applies to government agencies, federally-funded agencies, and service providers to such organizations. Under this law, relevant organizations must ensure their information and communication technology (ICT), which includes websites and web-based applications, are accessible to people with disabilities. Section 508 includes instructions on providing Braille alternatives to electronic information that cannot be otherwise accessed by people with certain vision impairments.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), which applies to many organizations registered in Ontario, Canada, aims to transform the province into one that is fully accessible to the disability community. 

Under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), Braille should be provided in a variety of contexts to allow people with vision impairments to fully access information. This includes, but isn’t limited to, communicating information in Braille within public spaces (e.g., public transportation), educational institutions, and healthcare facilities. 

Equality Act 2010 (EA) and The Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice

The Equality Act 2010 applies to many organizations in the United Kingdom, and protects the disability community (among other groups) with protection against discrimination, harassment, and victimization in various areas of public life. The legislation covers various areas, including education, employment, and public services. Under the Equality Act 2010, organizations are expected to provide auxiliary aids, which can entail providing information in Braille.

The European Accessibility Act (EAA)

Passed by the European Union (EU) in April 2019, the European Accessibility Act (EAA) applies to most Member States of the European Union, and was enacted to ensure that certain products and services are accessible to persons with disabilities. The law includes instructions on providing Braille alternatives for information to individuals who are blind or have vision impairments.

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