Braille is the tactile system of reading and writing used worldwide by people who are blind or deafblind; it is also used by many people whose vision is insufficient to allow them to use print effectively. Braille can be learnt and used by people of all ages, including people who become blind or people whose vision is insufficient to allow them to use print effectively later in life.
Braille is based on a six-dot “cell” arranged in a configuration of two columns and three rows. 64 combinations can be formed using the six braille dots, and these combinations are used to represent letters, numbers, punctuation and symbols.
Braille was invented by Louis Braille while he was a school student in Paris in the 1820’s. Since then, braille codes have been developed for many languages and covering a range of subject areas such as mathematics, music, computing, science, chess and knitting patterns. Various products incorporating braille have been developed, including clocks, watches, timers, games, kitchen scales and maps.
Braille is the primary tool for literacy, numeracy and information access available to people who are blind or people whose vision is insufficient to allow them to use print effectively. No other medium is able to convey the core elements of literacy such as spelling, punctuation, grammar and syntax necessary for writing and for full comprehension when reading. It provides the most direct and immediate access to information, and is analogous to print in allowing a reader to engage with text at a personal level rather than using an intermediary such as human-narrated audio or synthetic speech. Braille users find that it is an essential tool in the workplace and other areas of professional life, for example, when giving presentations, reading agendas of meetings, and taking notes.
For people who are deafblind, braille is the most effective, and in many cases the only, access to literacy, information and knowledge about the world.
Recent technological advances have made it easier than ever to learn and use braille. Technology is now readily available that allows people who are deafblind to communicate in real time with others by using braille in conjunction with a visual display such as a smartphone.
Braille can be written and produced using manual or electronic methods. In many countries, including Australia, braille is commonly produced using computer-based software and embossing equipment. Developments in technology have also made it possible for individual braille users to read and write braille using electronic “refreshable” braille displays and note taking devices, and to access computers, smartphones and the internet using braille.
Technological advances in have also made it easier to produce audio books and to access computers using high-quality synthetic speech. While audio can be a useful tool for accessing information, it is not a replacement for braille since it does not provide direct access to the core elements of literacy and numeracy. Braille and audio are complementary, not competing, ways of accessing information. Braille will remain essential for people who are blind, deafblind or people whose vision is insufficient to allow them to use print effectively, for as long as print is essential to sighted people, and cannot be easily replaced by other technologies.