About the Braille System

Braille is a tactile system of raised dots representing letters of the alphabet. To read braille, the fingers gently glide over paper that has been embossed with the braille code. For note taking, a pointed instrument is used to punch out the dots on paper held in a metal slate. The readable raised dots appear on the other side of the paper.


Braille has been an effective means of communication for people who are blind since 1829 when it was invented in Paris, France by Louis Braille. Louis Braille lost his sight at the age of three as a result of an eye injury. As a young boy at school, he became frustrated with the large and bulky raised letter alphabet used to learn reading and writing skills. Later in his life, a French artillery officer, Charles Barbier de la Serre, gave him the idea of reading by a tactile code. After many years of experimenting, Louis Braille developed a successful reading and writing system that today is used around the world.

The Braille System

Braille cell

The basis of the braille system is known as a braille cell. The cell is comprised of six dots numbered in a specific order. Each dot or combination of dots represents a letter of the alphabet. For example, by checking in the braille alphabet, you will see that dot 1 is the letter "a" and dots 1 and 2 the letter "b".

Braille Alphabet

Braille Alphabet

Braille Numbers and Symbols

Numbers and punctuation signs are also represented in braille. By looking at the chart below, you will see that braille numbers are announced by a sign using dots 3, 4, 5, and 6. The use of dot 6 just before a letter indicates a capital.

Braille Numbers and Symbols

Reading Exercise

Try and read the following phrase adapted from the novel The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

A phrase from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Contracted Braille

The phrase you just read is in Grade 1 elementary braille. Just as sighted people invented shorthand, people with vision loss use a contracted version of braille which is space saving and allows for more rapid reading and writing. The next sequence is the contracted version of the first half of the braille phrase you just read.

The contracted version of the first half of the previous phrase from The Little prince

The Importance of Braille

Braille is to the person with vision loss what the printed word is to the sighted individual - access to information and contact with the outside world.

It is the building block for language skills, a means to teach spelling to children with vision loss, and the most direct contact with the written thoughts of others. Braille books are available in all subject areas, ranging from modern fiction to mathematics, music and law. As with print, braille is used for taking notes and labeling objects. Braille-adapted devices such as watches, games, playing cards and thermometers are examples of some of the practical and recreational uses of braille.

Learning Braille

Like any new "language", braille takes time and practice to learn. Braille is taught to persons with vision loss as part of CNIB's adjustment to vision loss program. It is also taught in schools within the community. Sighted volunteers transcribe the original printed text into braille.

It takes eight months of training before volunteers become certified CNIB braillists. The rigorous training program conforms to standards set in cooperation with the Braille Authority of North America. Further training is required before brailling educational material for students or specializing in transcribing music into braille.

Braille is produced in a number of ways. It can be transcribed from the original printed text on a machine that resembles a typewriter. The braille writer has six keys which correspond to the six dots of the braille cell. Computers are also used to transcribe and reproduce braille texts. The electronic revolution is changing the way braille is produced, stored and retrieved, making it easier to use in the work place.

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