Basic Braille

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.

Learning Braille

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.

Some 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 Blind Foundation)

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 well.

Learning braille using the PC Keyboard Braille Input for NVDA add on

This 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.

You 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.

The 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.

The letter J will be the number 4, the letter K will be the number 5, and the letter L will be the number 6.

These 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.

When you get the combination of keys right (to make a braille letter) this will be spoken out by NVDA.

For more information on this add on or to obtain it please go to

Learning braille using homemade braille blocks (with both plastic Dymo braille letters and Velcro braille letters)

Another 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.

Using 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 mentioned above.

The 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.

Use 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.

Doing it this way will also give you a bigger representation of that braille letter.

On 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.

Once 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.  There will be 3 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.

Table 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

Table 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
The Braille Authority of New Zealand Aotearoa Trust website