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How Braille works – writing for the blind

The Braille alphabet is a written communication tool that has allowed millions of visually impaired people to communicate with the same efficacy as the normally sighted.

The Braille system takes its name from its inventor, but was created thanks to the expertise of various people, who provided the basis for creating a tactile alphabet.

How does the Braille alphabet work?

Braille

The Braille alphabet uses a combination of six dots housed within a rectangle (cell) measuring approximately the size of the tip of your index finger (2mm in width and 3mm in length). Raised dots are arranged in a pattern in this cell to form the letters of the alphabet. The first 10 letters (A to J) are formed using the first four dots, while the next ten letters (K to T) are identical to the first 10 with an additional dot in position 3.

The letters U, V, X, Y, and Z are the same as the first five letters of the alphabet (A to E) with the addition of an extra dot in positions 1, 3 and 6. The letter W does not appear in the original Braille alphabet because the system was invented in the early 1800s, back when the letter W was not included in the French alphabet. Over time, patterns have been introduced to indicate capital letters, punctuation marks, mathematical symbols and musical notes.

The difficulties that come with writing in Braille

Learning to read Braille is simple enough, and you can pick it up fairly quickly with a bit of practice. However, learning to write in Braille is a little more complex, as it is actually written backwards using a special stylus to create dots in relief on the back of a piece of paper or a thin plastic slate.

As such, learning to write is much more complicated for the visually impaired than for normally sighted people, and requires significant preparation from a practical point of view. Fortunately, there are numerous different software applications out there that can translate text into Braille in just a few moments.

Translating Braille

The first ever book for the blind was published in French back in 1787, and the publication of texts for the visually impaired and the blind has not stopped since.

Braille is based on the perfect correspondence of the letters of the Latin alphabet with the dots featured in the Braille alphabet. As such, transforming a written text into Braille is less of a translation task and more of a transliteration task, i.e. the simple substitution of characters in one alphabet with those in another.

Translating Braille texts poses the same challenges as any other translation, since Braille is capable of conveying all sorts of messages, just like any other form of written language. Any translator can translate a text written in Braille, all you need to do is “convert” the text into the written alphabet, and then commence the translation process.

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