What is Braille?
Braille is a tactile
code which uses raised
dots to convey a message. It is used on books, labels,
signs and various other items.
History of Braille
Originally Braille was invented by Charles
Barbier de La Serre - a French Army captain (1767 - 1841) for sending messages to the military in
the dark. At that stage it was known as "Ecriture
Nocturne" (night writing) and was a 12 dot system. A Frenchman
named Louis Braille (4 Jan 1809 - 6 Jan 1852) modified this system
to a 6 dot (2 by 3 grid) which made it easier to understand. Louis
Braille wanted tactile
books to be developed for the blind. For more in-depth
information on Braille please click here.
When I first started looking at learning
Braille, it seemed quite daunting. I had to relearn the
alphabet from A to Z, but this time with my fingers. I
had been so used to seeing it with my eyes, and now I had to learn
how to feel the alphabet with
my fingers. It wasn't compulsory for me to learn Braille,
but before the invention of the PenFriend audio labeller, I
thought it would be a good idea to learn so I could read some of
the items in my cupboard (like canned food of the same
size). A lot of sighted people just look for something in
their cupboard, see what they want and grab it; but if you were to
take the labels off their items, they wouldn't have a clue what
they could be grabbing. Labelling is very important.
things you can do to learn braille
Depending on your eyesight level, there are
various ways around this, so that you can find what you want in
the cupboard. One of these
options is learning Braille.
Learning braille using a
Perkins brailler, with braille paper, tactile books and
audio tapes (possibly available on loan from your local
I started learning the basics of Braille, so I
could label my food and other items in the house. I brought
a Braille labeller from
the Blind Foundation (with Dymo
tape) for items to be brailled at a later date.
Before this, I had to learn how
Braille was set out so I could read it. Thanks to
the Blind Foundation, I was able to obtain 2 books called Keeping in Touch A Grade 1 Braille
Teaching Scheme (Booklet 1 and Booklet 2). These 2 books
were really good to learn the basics of Braille. We also
borrowed some Perkin's braillers
so we could type up words and sentences and later read them back
for revision. (I think I preferred the normal computer keyboard
that I was used to). It helps when you do it in a group, so you
can have turns at reading lines on a page. We were lucky
enough to have a sighted person wanting to learn as well so she
could also read the labels in Braille, and it helped us to see if
we made any mistakes while learning. There were audio tapes we could go by as
braille using the PC Keyboard Braille Input for NVDA
is a useful add on for learning the basics of braille. Once the
add on has been installed, you will need to go into a word
processing program like notepad, then activate the add on with
the NVDA key + the letter Z. If you would like to turn it off,
repeat the process again.
will be able to use your qwerty keyboard home keys to simulate a
Perkins Brailler. You will need to place your fingers on the
following keys... left hand on the letters S,D,F and the right
hand on the letters J,K,L.
letter F will be the number 1 key, the letter D will be the
number 2, and the letter S will be the number 3.
letter J will be the number 4, the letter K will be the number
5, and the letter L will be the number 6.
will represent the keys that will be needed to make up the
braille letters in combinations. For example, for the letter A,
you would press the letter F key (which is the number one key)
and for the letter B, you would press the letter D and letter F
keys (which is the number one key and number two key) and so on.
you get the combination of keys right (to make a braille letter)
this will be spoken out by NVDA.
more information on this add on or to obtain it please go to http://addons.nvda-project.org/addons/pcKeyboardBrailleInput.en.html
braille using homemade braille blocks (with both
plastic Dymo braille letters and Velcro braille
way of learning the basics of braille as a type of game is to do
the following. You will need to obtain the following essentials:
Wooden blocks (these will need to be big enough to put a braille
label on - from a hand held Dymo braille labeller). You will
also need a hole punch and some rough and smooth Velcro. The
blocks that were used were 5cm by 5cm, by 5cm. You will need
enough of them to put 26 letters onto. Extra ones could be added
as you learn more of the braille code.
the hand held Brailler, you will need to make a label for each
letter of the alphabet (so that one letter goes on each side of
the block). To have some type of a system, put the label on the
top left corner of each block. If you are learning the braille
alphabet for the first time, leave a space, then have the
braille letter, then a space again. Make sure these are cut in
between each letter and stuck onto each side of the block as
next step is to make a grid for your Velcro dots to go onto - to
represent the braille letters. For example on the grid there
should be 3 dots on the left and 3 dots on the right. Not all
dots will be used to make the braille letters.
the hole punch to pop out the dots from the Velcro. You will
need to use sticky backed Velcro for this purpose. Use rough
Velcro, so that it is better when you feel the braille letters
you are about to create. Alternatively, you might decide to use
rough Velcro for the letters and smooth Velcro for blank spaces.
it this way will also give you a bigger representation of that
the same side that you placed the braille Dymo plastic label
(which you had created with the braille hand labeller earlier),
reproduce that same letter underneath with the Velcro dots. Make
sure the dots line up correctly for each letter you are trying
to reproduce. Having both the smaller plastic Dymo braille
letter (top left) and the larger Velcro braille letter (lower
and centred) consistently on each side, makes it easier to
identify which way is the correct way for each letter.
the blocks have been finished, you could use it like a dice game
to learn the letters of the braille alphabet. You could do one
block at a time, or add a few more to make it a little harder.
Once you have thrown it like a dice, locate the top of the dice
and guess what letter it is.
Learning braille using
an egg carton and ping pong balls
The other thing we obtained were some ping-pong balls (6 per person)
and some egg cartons.
You are probably wondering what these 2 items were going to be
used for by now?
Braille is made up of 6 cells.
cells on the left hand side, and 3 on the right. These cells
will be numbered and you need to learn which way the numbers go. One, two and three (going from north to south top left,
centre left, and bottom left) and off to the right will be four,
five and six (top right, centre right, and bottom right).
The ping-pong balls were dropped into position for the different
letters. Combinations of those positions made up the Braille
letters. Eg. A would be number one (top left), and B was number 1
and number 2 (top left and centre left) so on. This gave a large
scale tactile reminder of the smaller scale Braille that we were
about to use. Another way to learn Braille is to use a voice recorder and record A =
1 , B = 1 , 2 and so on.
Once you have mastered Grade 1 Braille, you can always go onto
contracted Braille should you feel the need to. It may take a
while to become fluent, but each case is as individual as the
learner and the amount of time spent learning it. From here you
can read Braille books, or you could use a screen reader on
a computer with a Braille display - to do the same sort of thing.
Labelling with Braille
Once we had mastered enough Braille to be able
to recall all 26 letters,
I purchased some magnetic tape. Using my Braille Dymo, I brailled my
labels (eg. b beans for baked beans, or spag for spaghetti and so
on), and then stuck the labels to the magnet. This way, I could
take it on and off cans - making the labels recyclable! Between
uses of the labels, I kept them in a jar so I could locate them
easily when the next lot of shopping came in. For use in the
freezer (or on other non magnetic items), you could use a hole
punch and put through some flexible
garden wire to tie it to the neck of the bag or bottle or
whatever your trying to label. If you do not have magnetic tape readily
available, another idea is to recycle old ice cream lids -
chopping them into rectangles - which can be converted into
recyclable waterproof labels! Velcro
can also be used to attach the label to a plastic lid which is not
magnetic. In time, you will develop a system that works for you.
The Braille code
I have put two tables below. One is for those
who use a screen reader, and the other is for those who have some
useful vision or are sighted.
of Braille letters in numeric sequence for screen readers
|A = 1
|B = 1, 2
|C = 1, 4
|D = 1, 4, 5
|E = 1, 5
|F = 1, 2, 4
|G = 1, 2, 4, 5
|H = 1, 2, 5
|I = 2, 4
|J = 2, 4, 5
|K = 1, 3
|L = 1, 2, 3
|M = 1, 3, 4
|N = 1, 3, 4, 5
|O = 1, 3, 5
|P = 1, 2, 3, 4
|Q = 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
|R = 1, 2, 3, 5
|S = 2, 3, 4
|T = 2, 3, 4, 5
|U = 1, 3, 6
|V = 1, 2, 3, 6
|W = 2, 4, 5, 6
|X = 1, 3, 4, 6
|Y = 1, 3, 4, 5, 6
|Z = 1, 3, 5, 6
of Braille letters in visual format for sighted learners
There are a variety of Braille references
available both on-line, via your local Blind Foundation or at your
local library. Here are some further information links below:
You Tube video on Braille http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqQ3gdE7ks0
The Braille Authority of New Zealand Aotearoa Trust website