Happy World Braille Day! Today is the first ever celebration of World Braille Day, and people from all over the world are celebrating, especially people who live with vision loss. World Braille Day commemorates the 210th birthday of Louis Braille, who invented the braille system of reading and writing at the age of 14 and revolutionized literacy for the blind and vision impaired. In honor of World Braille Day, here are ten fun facts about braille that aren’t common knowledge.
Braille isn’t a language, it’s a code
Is braille a language? While many people think of braille as a language or as similar to sign language, it’s actually a code. There are six dots in each braille cell (though some systems use eight dots), and the different combinations of raised dots are used to show letters, numbers, punctuation, and symbols. Almost all modern languages can be translated into braille, and each language has its own system of how braille is encoded. I’ve linked an interesting article about the Navajo braille code for further reading.
- Websites That Teach Kids About Low Vision and Assistive Technology
- Navajo Braille Code – Paths to Literacy
Braille can be downloaded in a digital format
A lot of people are used to seeing braille embossed on paper, but braille can also be digitally displayed using a file format called BRF, which is then displayed on a refreshable braille display, which can show anywhere from 8 to 80 cells at a time. A refreshable braille display connects to a computer, smartphone, tablet, or is built into a braille notetaker, and transcribes onscreen text into braille. Emoji names are spelled out on a refreshable braille display, so a message that displays the cake emoji five times will be shown on the braille display as “cake cake cake cake cake.”
- Common File Types For Vision Impairment and Print Disabilities
- How Bookshare Books Come To Life
- Emoji and Low Vision
There is more than one type of braille
There are two “levels” of English braille, which are referred to as uncontracted and contracted, or “grade 1” and “grade 2” braille.
Uncontracted or “grade 1” Braille translates each printed character into a Braille cell. There are no abbreviations or contractions, every letter and symbol is written out.
Contracted or “grade 2” Braille uses contractions and shortcuts to save space and time when reading. Common letter combinations are contracted, as are common words such as “and”, “or”, and “can”. Most books and magazines are printed with contracted Braille.
Some languages have additional levels or grades for braille- for example, French braille has four levels, which my friend had to learn while going to school in Quebec. Another fun fact- French braille is the “original” braille, and the first language to have a braille code developed.
You can use braille for music
Is there braille music? Of course there is! Braille music uses the traditional six-dot cell, but has its own syntax and translations. The different characters dictate note name and note length, as well as rests and other dynamics. Braille music isn’t any easier or harder to learn than normal braille, and musicians can benefit greatly from learning to read music.
In addition to music, there are also specialized braille codes for math and scientific notation.
- Ways To Use Music Stands As Assistive Technology
- My Large Print Music Binder
- How To Make Music Accessible With Microsoft PowerPoint
- Tips For Reading Music On An iPad With Low Vision
There’s a reason why there’s Braille on drive-up ATMs
Why is there braille on drive-up ATMs?
- The driver uses a special pair of glasses called bioptics to drive, but is unable to read print materials and uses the Braille buttons
- A blind person is in a taxi or other ridesharing service and has the right to use the ATM independently without compromising their privacy
- The additional raised print numbers can benefit people with low or poor vision, or people who aren’t wearing their reading glasses
People can get descriptions of images in braille
How do blind people look at pictures? Images that include alt text or image descriptions are recognized by screen readers and braille displays, and the text description is displayed in place of the image on a braille display. I have an entire collection of posts about writing alt text and image descriptions that I have linked below.
- How To Write Alt Text and Image Descriptions for the Visually Impaired
- Alt Text Archives | Veronica With Four Eyes (veroniiiica.com)
- How To Be An Ally For Braille Users: World Braille Day 2021
Not every blind person reads Braille
Braille literacy has been declining in recent years due to advances in screen reader technology and the use of portable devices.
There are other factors as to why someone may not read braille. For example, I have reduced sensitivity in my hands and I have trouble pressing down hard enough to distinguish the dots. Because of this, I don’t read braille myself, but did learn the braille code as part of my college classes.
Braille is still very important to learn, and just as important as print. Technology won’t always be around to read us information, so we need to learn how to access it ourselves. Learning braille continues to be the best way to do this.
Some people learn braille and print
A couple of my friends were diagnosed with low vision or degenerative vision conditions at a young age. As a result, they learned to read both braille and print. This ensures that they are able to develop important literacy skills and that they won’t lose their ability to read as their vision changes. People who learn print and braille are often referred to as dual media users.
Many accessibility libraries have materials available in large print and braille to support dual media users and people with print disabilities. These accessibility libraries provide physical or digital copies of books in accessible formats for readers who need them.
You can type using a braille keyboard on mobile devices
Is there a special braille keyboard? Why, yes there is! The braille keyboard, sometimes called a Perkins keyboard, has three keys on the left side, a large space key in the center, and three keys on the right side. By holding down keys in a certain sequence, people can type messages in braille with ease. I’ve linked posts from Google and Apple about how to set up a braille keyboard on mobile devices like iPhone, iPad, and Android phones.
- Use the TalkBack braille keyboard – Android Accessibility Help (google.com)
- Type braille directly on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch – Apple Support
- How To Make iPad Accessible for Low Vision
- Low Vision Accessibility Settings For Android Phones
- How To Use VoiceOver For Beginners
Braille takes up more space than print
How big is braille? Braille is equivalent to a 10 mm font size, with 10 mm line spacing. This is larger than the standard print size for printed materials. In addition, double sided braille copies can be difficult or cost-prohibitive to make. As a result, braille books and materials are much larger and heavier than traditional print materials. To put that in perspective, a braille copy of a Harry Potter book is broken up into thirteen volumes and weighs up to nine pounds per book.
More fun facts about braille for World Braille Day
- Unless it is used at the beginning of a sentence or used when talking about Louis Braille, braille is spelled with a lowercase B
- Braille credit cards are available from select banks, including USAA, but the security code is not printed in braille on most cards.
- Braille stickers can be added to books to create dual media picture books- the Paths to Literacy website has a ton of resources on this topic
- Want to learn more about braille and dual media? Check out my Pinterest board on the topic- Braille and Dual Media by Veron4ica- Pinterest