Braille Basics

What is braille?

Braille is a system of raised dots that are arranged in “cells.”  Each cell is a group of six braille dots arranged in two columns of three dots each. An entire braille cell fits under a fingertip allowing braille to be read with the touch of a finger.

Each braille cell corresponds to a single letter, a combination of letters (such as “ing”), a word, a number or a punctuation sign.

There is a different braille code for just about every written language to correspond with each language’s unique letters, sounds, common letter combinations and symbols.  There are also braille codes for math and science (Nemeth code) and music notation.

Who should learn braille?

For working age adults, braille is an essential tool for independence.  It allows a person to function at the same level as everyone else.  Research has shown a correlation between reading braille and employment. One study shows that only 30% of blind people are employed, but of this group, 90% are braille readers.

For older adults, braille is an option that can increase independence around the home and is useful for taking down phone numbers, creating labels and recording other important notes.

Should I encourage my group members to learn braille while they still have some sight?

When learning braille, you will be using your sense of touch and should not be using your sight at all.  A good time to begin to learn braille is when you can no longer read large print with magnification.

What are other options for recording important information?

For those who are not yet ready to make the transition from print to braille, audio recordings can be an effective way to capture and store information.  A small digital recorder such as the Wilson is simple to use and can store a good quantity of information.  The Victor Reader Stream and an iPhone can also store notes and audio recordings.  A very simple way to capture information is to leave a message on your home voice mail.


Where can my group members learn braille?

Second Sense has a 16-week beginner braille class that teaches the basics of the alphabet, numbers and punctuation.  Classes are small with lots of one-on-one attention.

Hadley School for the Blind is a distance education institution that has an entire series of braille classes for people with vision loss.  Proof of legal blindness must be provided to participate.

Hadley also has a braille literacy course for family and service providers to teach the alphabet.  These courses can be completed from home and are taught by a certified braille teacher.

The local Department of Human Services or state blind service agency may also provide braille instruction.  Check your state’s services to see what they can provide.


Who is qualified to teach braille?

Knowing braille and knowing how to teach braille are two different things.  You will have the most success from working with a teacher who is experienced in teaching braille to others.  If you have a friend who wants to teach you braille, be aware that you may be picking up bad habits that will ultimately decrease your reading efficiency and speed.