Scottish Braille Press

2a Robertson Avenue 
EH11 1PZ
Tel: 0131 662 4445
Fax: 0131 662 1968


A History of Braille

What is braille?

Braille is a tactile writing system made up of dots used by vision impaired people. There are two types of braille:

  • Uncontracted braille grade 1:  Translates each print character into a braille character or cell and is suitable for basic labelling. 

  • Contracted braille grade 2: Uses a shorthand system based on uncontracted braille which is quicker to read and write than uncontracted braille, and also takes up less space. 

How does braille work?

Raised dots represent the letters of the print alphabet for people who are blind or severely sight impaired. Braille contains symbols for punctuation marks and provides a system of contractions and short form words to save space, making it an efficient method of tactile reading. 

Braille symbols are formed within units of space known as braille cells. A full braille cell consists of six raised dots arranged in two parallel vertical rows each having three dots. The dot positions are identified by numbers one through six. 63 combinations are possible using one or more of these six dots. Cells can be used to represent a letter of the alphabet, number, punctuation mark or even a whole word.

Braille is not a language. It is a code by which all languages may be written and read. Through the use of braille, people who are blind are able to review and study the written word. It provides a vehicle for literacy and gives an individual the ability to become familiar with spelling, punctuation, paragraphing and other formatting considerations.

Who uses braille?

Braille is used mainly by people who are blind or severely sight impaired. It is critically important to the lives of these people as the ability to read and write in braille opens the door to literacy, intellectual freedom, equal opportunity, and personal security. Teachers, parents and others who are not vision impaired ordinarily read braille with their eyes.

Who invented braille?

Louis Braille was born in Coupvray, France, near Paris on January 4, 1809. At the age of 3 he was playing with a sharp awl in his father's harness making shop, when he accidentally poked his eye, and subsequently developed an eye infection causing total blindness. He attended the local school until 1819, when he was awarded a scholarship to the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris where he was the youngest student.

While there, Braille yearned for more books to read. He experimented with ways to make an alphabet that was easy to read with the fingertips. He started by working on a reading code with a special tool he developed called a slate and stylus. In 1824 at the age of 15, he invented the 6-dot braille system that evolved from the tactile "Ecriture Nocturne" (night writing) code invented by Charles Barbier de la Serre to send military messages that could be read on the battlefield at night, without light. In 1829 he published his work in Method of Writing Words, Music and Plain Songs by means of Dots for Use by the Blind. He then spent the majority of his life working on this tactile reading and writing system.

National Braille Week

National Braille Week is a week long celebration of braille and other alternative formats. The week is organised by Royal Blind and we encourage individuals and organisations from across the country to get involved and organise their own activity.

Find out more about National Braille Week.