What is braille?
Invented 200 years ago this year by Louis Braille, braille is a tactile reading system for people who are blind or visually impaired. The braille system consists of combinations of up to six dots per ‘cell’, each of which represents a letter, number or symbol. Braille can be embossed on paper, so the dots are raised, or read using a digital braille display, which is usually a single line of cells, where pins move up and down to make the cells readable to the user.
Braille isn’t a language – there’s no spoken alternative – and as each letter is represented by a cell, it can be read by anyone around the world. It’s simply a translation. This means that braille is very important for literacy.
There are some great advantages to braille literacy you might not have considered:
- Braille helps break down some of the barriers people who are blind or partially sighted might face when securing a job. Research from the RNIB shows that braille users are more likely to be in employment.
- Braille gives people with visual impairments the same access as sighted people to all types of reading material, from books and magazines to menus and product information. It means people who are blind or partially sighted can read reports, contracts, insurance policies, music, product packaging information, and much more. In short, it gives braille readers independence in many different ways. It enables people with visual impairments to live, work and study independently.
- Electronic braille displays link to screen readers such as SuperNova and other assistive technology, which means that digital braille can be used in a wide range of jobs, throughout education and at home, to access all types of reading material and written communication.
- Braille literacy is really important for children with visual impairments, if it is taught from a young age, children have it as a lifelong skill. It means they become literate, as they can learn and understand punctuation, grammar and spelling with braille.
- You don’t have to learn braille in childhood. It can be learned at any age and the RNIB recommend that if your sight is deteriorating, or is likely to deteriorate, you learn braille as soon as you can, so that it’s easier to read if and when your sight deteriorates further.
- Many parents with vision impairments say that reading braille means that they can read bedtime stories to their children. Read this blog by Aj Ahmed to find out the benefits braille has to him as a father.
- Dolphin offers software that can transcribe word documents to braille files (and other accessible formats). Find out more about EasyConverter Express and turn your letters, documents and reports into accessible formats in a few clicks!
- The RNIB Bookshare education collection contains accessible versions of books, textbooks and other reading material. This can be read with braille (and in other accessible formats) through the Dolphin EasyReader App. The app and the accessible library are both free for blind and partially sighted people to use.
- Dolphin assistive technology software including SuperNova and Dolphin Screen Reader can be used with a huge range of electronic braille displays.
There are proven benefits of braille literacy, and the advantages of braille literacy to people with visual impairments young and older are clear. There is also a need for braille to be taught and learned by visually impaired children and older individuals.
However, My Voice research in 2015 found that only 9% of people registered blind or partially sighted in the UK could read braille.
There is currently a shortage of braille-literate teachers in the UK. If it’s a skill you’d like to learn, contact the RNIB to find out more about their courses and training in braille and if you want to learn braille as an adult, there are courses for you.
Other blogs and articles about braille you might enjoy: