Characters embossed on braille paper

What is braille?

It is a tactile (touchable) way of reading text, consisting of a series of raised dots embossed onto special paper.

Someone reading braille will pass their finger over the dots to feel what is written. It is an alternative written form of a standard language – it is not a separate language.

Braille in Australia uses characters based on the Latin or Roman alphabet (the letters we know and use everyday).

Languages that use a different alphabet (eg. Arabic, Japanese, Cyrillic etc) will each have their own form of braille, unique to their alphabet.

It is an important communication tool used by:

How to read braille

Characters are made up of cells with 6 dots in three rows and two columns. The dots in each cell are shown in different arrangements for each letter of the alphabet.

Visual representation of braille dots

 

 

There are two grades:

Grade 1 (uncontracted)

Which is a direct alphabetic transcription of each letter in a word. eg. “this is braille” written in Grade 1:

Visual representation of the words "this is braille" in grade 1 braille

 

 

Grade 2 (contracted)

Uses shortened (contracted) forms of words and different configurations of the dots and cells to represent a whole word. This saves a lot of space and time in texts, but can be more difficult to learn. eg., “this is braille” written in Grade 2:

 

 

How many people can read braille?

According to some braille literacy statistics, it is estimated that only about 9% of people who are blind use braille. This may be due to a number of reasons, such as reduced sensitivity in their fingers, lack of teaching resources or lack of awareness of its importance.

Braille books

Embossed books

Text can be transcribed and embossed onto special braille paper and bound into a book. A special printer called an embosser creates the dots on the paper. Books for recreational use can be embossed onto standard size paper (approximately 27.5 x 29cm).

For more formal use or where there is less room to open a book, such as in meetings or in classrooms, the dots can be embossed onto slightly smaller A4-size  paper (21 x 29.7cm).

Braille takes up a lot more space than print. A 250-page print book may end up as a 650-page book, divided into seven volumes. The conversion to paper can take some time to complete. It is important for people who are blind to be able to use a variety of methods to access information.

Refreshable braille display with Surface Pro computer

What is a refreshable braille display?

Transcription software converts electronic material such as downloadable braille, ePub or Microsoft Word documents, which can then be read on a refreshable braille display device (or braille display unit) or, alternatively, directly embossed by a printer.

The software reads the content of the screen, which is connected to the refreshable display through bluetooth or wifi. There are a number of different models available on the market and each device features up to 80 cells.

Each cell contains plastic pins which are moved electronically to form the correct arrangement for each letter. The digital text is processed by the software and converted by the display to read one line of text at a time.

Refreshable displays are available in either grade 1 or grade 2 formats.

Contact our Assistive Technology Team to get support and advice on the types of devices which will be the most suitable for you.

Close up of display unit pins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The VisAbility Library contains a selection of downloadable or embossed Braille books.

Business card with braille overlay

What can be converted to braille?

Any type of book or document can be transcribed by our Accessible Information team at VisAbility.

As well as for literature and information purposes, maths, music, and computer programming can also be transcribed using various additional combinations of the dots and cells. These require specialist knowledge by the transcriber.

Braille overlays

Children’s picture books can be transcribed or the text embossed onto a clear sticky-backed film, which is overlaid the original book pages.

Overlays can also be used for certificates, signs or even business cards.

Tactile floor plan image of a building

Tactile drawings

Braille can also be used in line drawings such as tactile diagrams.

How can I learn braille?

One-to-one braille classes are run at VisAbility for both vision impaired and sighted people. Visit our Training and Workshop page for more information. It can take six months or more to gain a good level of understanding and proficiency.

Will braille be used in the future?

Yes. Although its use has declined over the last 50 years with the increase of audio-based technologies. It remains an essential tool for children who are blind, to learn spelling and grammar, maths and science.

Just as not everyone who is blind can read braille, not everyone who is blind can listen to audio or use screen reading technology. Similarly, just as some print-readers prefer a physical book, many touch-readers prefer to have a hard copy, either reading one line at a time on a refreshable display unit, or reading and scanning a whole page with their fingers in a book.

Who invented braille?

Louis Braille was born in 1809 in France and was blinded at age three by an accident in his fathers workshop. He developed the braille alphabet when he was 12 years old. It took him two years to completely develop the system and he produced the first book in 1829.

The Australian Braille Authority (link opens in new window) has established a set of rules and guidelines for the formatting of braille text in Australia (eg. regarding headings, poetry, graphic elements).

How to get support

Please complete the form below to make an initial enquiry about transcription services, our low vision services or the support we can provide. Our Client Experience Team will contact you to discuss your individual needs, both now and into the future.

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