Top 5 Questions about Braille
Yesterday, people across the globe observed World Braille Day. The day is celebrated each year on January 4th in honor of Louis Braille, who became blind as a young child and invented the system in the 1800s. World Braille Day recognizes the importance of this system of reading and writing used by millions of people who are blind all over the world. I have known Braille practically all my life, and often get questions about how it works. In honor of this important but little known celebration, I have compiled the top five questions I commonly get asked about Braille.
- What is Braille?
Braille is the system of raised dots used for reading and writing by people who are blind or severely visually impaired. It is read with the fingertips, although with practice people with sight can read it with their eyes. Letters, numbers, punctuation marks and numerous other symbols can be written with Braille. Each letter or symbol is formed by a special pattern of dots known as a Braille cell, which resembles a six on dice. The dots are numbered from 1 to 6. From top to bottom, dots 1, 2, and three are on the left column, and dots 4, 5 and 6 are on the right column. Letters and characters are written with a combination of these dots.
- Is Braille a separate language?
For people who are blind, Braille is the equivalent to print. Just as with standard print, Braille can be written in different languages. Braille is available in virtually every language, including English, Spanish, Chinese, French and so on. I personally know Braille in both English and Spanish.
- Are all books available in Braille?
It is estimated that only about 5 percent of all books worldwide are available in alternative formats, including Braille. Assistive technology like Braille embossers and Braille displays – both devices used to produce Braille – make it easier for Braille readers to access many materials. Still, much more has to be done to spread awareness and make books and other publications readily available in Braille.
- Do all people who are blind know Braille?
In the United States alone, it is estimated that only about 10 percent of people who are blind know the system. The exact number is uncertain, but a study from the National Federation for the Blind estimates that in the case of school-aged children, only 10 percent are taught Braille. This is due to a variety of factors, including a lack of teachers, increased use of audio books and technology, and difficulties mastering the system because of things like additional disabilities. Still, many people learn basic Braille symbols in order to be able to read signs and label things.
- Will technology replace Braille?
As a Braille reader, I strongly believe that Braille is and will always be important. It allows those of us who can’t see to be literate and connect to the world, just like print does the same for people with sight. I also strongly support assistive technology, and hope that it will continue promoting the use of Braille.
What other questions do you have about Braille? Please leave them in the comments section, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sandy Murillo works at The Chicago Lighthouse, an organization serving the blind and visually impaired. She is the author of Sandy’s View, a bi-weekly Lighthouse blog about blindness and low vision. The blog covers topics of interest to those living with blindness and vision impairments. Being a blind journalist and blogger herself, Sandy shares her unique perspective about ways to live and cope with vision loss.