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Braille - Everything You Need to Know to Get Started

Updated the 04/26/2024 08:00 

Today, I would like to draw your attention to a valuable and often overlooked writing system: Braille. This system, also an integral part of Biblos, is a knowledge tool for many people with visual impairments, with a history of over two hundred years. In this article, I would like to share with you some tips on how to approach Braille in a creative and friendly manner, discovering new facets of this invaluable tactile system.

Previously, I have written about the dimensions of Braille and introduced you to the distances and sizes of dots and cells. Today, I will talk about Braille in general, trying to describe it in simple terms. At the end, you will also find a link to my Tutorial that will teach you Braille in just ten minutes.

Braille is a reading and writing system based on tactile dots, primarily used by blind individuals. This system was conceived and developed by Louis Braille, after whom it is named. It is not a universal language, as some people may think, although many languages use the same alphabet. A few years ago, I published the opinion of the Braille Authority of North America (BANA), which stated that "Braille is not a language, but a code." Indeed, it is a matter of logic, as one can reason: there are various Braille systems for different languages and purposes, such as for mathematics and music.

The Braille system allows the blind to access written texts, perceiving and acquiring the structure of words and sentences through touch. It is the primary tool for knowledge, although today, new technologies and speech synthesizers are increasingly marginalizing it. In the past, thanks to Braille, blind individuals have been able to write, read, and communicate in writing, earning educational qualifications and/or enhancing their cultural knowledge, with all the benefits that have ensued.

The basic unit of Braille is the cell. Cells can have different meanings and depend on the language and textual context in which they are used. A cell is formed by six dots arranged in two columns of three dots each. The position of the dots is numbered as follows.

Position of the dots in a Braille cell

1 4
2 5
3 6

Combining the six dots of a Braille cell can form up to 64 different cells, including the space which is the cell with no raised dots.

A Braille code is a system where various combinations of dots are assigned meanings and usage rules. For example, in Italian Braille, dots 1-5, raised in the same cell, typically represent the letter "E", but in other cases, they can represent the number "5".

Some Braille systems use eight dots per cell. This is the case with Computer Braille, usually read using special devices called Braille Bars or Braille Displays.

Today, Braille is used practically in every country in the world and has been adapted to nearly every known language, from Albanian to Zulu.

The position of the dots within the Braille cell is crucial. It's important to recognize where the raised and lowered dots are. For example, I mentioned earlier that dots 1-5 within the same cell signify the letter "E". Visualize in your mind the position of these dots and shift them downwards: dot 1 becomes dot 2, dot 5 becomes dot 6. If you were to swap dots 1-5 with dots 2-6 - which is likely to happen - you would read a question mark.

If you want to learn Braille on your own, remember to always start with the first ten letters of the alphabet: from "A" to "J". There's a specific reason for this: these letters are composed using only the top four dots of the cell. Braille shorthand is divided into groups, and these letters belong to the first group, which forms the basics of Braille. To form letters from the second group, from "K" to "T", you simply add dot 3 to the dots of the first ten letters.

The problem with Braille is that there are only 64 possible combinations. Each language, while maintaining identical codes for the alphabet letters, adopts different symbols for other writing symbols, such as accented letters or punctuation. These differences also involve special symbols, such as uppercase indicators and number indicators, special activators that instruct the reader to interpret the following characters differently.

Are you thinking of giving up? Courage, Braille is easier done than said. In fact, it took me longer to write this article than it would take you to learn Braille. I challenge you: I'm confident you can learn the first twenty letters of the alphabet in an hour, both writing and reading them. If you don't have Braille writing tools, you can use Biblos, utilize its virtual Braille keyboard, and understand the position of the dots, or use the Braille preview that shows you the Braille cells of what you've written.

After learning Braille theoretically, the only way to gain mastery and speed is the same for everyone, sighted and visually impaired: practice. After the theory, you'll find that you'll be as slow as a turtle when reading with your fingers, and you'll focus more on interpreting the codes than understanding the meanings of words - it's perfectly normal. Practice is the only way for you to become a proficient Braille reader.

If you want to learn the Braille representation of the alphabet, numbers, and punctuation marks, you can read the Tutorial Learn Braille in Ten Minutes.

For further support you can subscribe the Biblos Group on Facebook.