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Basic Information relating to Braille
  All over the world, persons with visual handicaps have used Braille as the primary means to reading information. Also, the concept of Braille has been accepted as a universal approach that works across the boundaries of the world. Different countries of the world have adapted the system of Braille to suit their languages.  Irrespective of these changes or modifications, Visually Handicapped persons understand standard Braille for the Roman alphabet (English Braille) making it possible to exchange information in a consistent fashion across different countries. 

     In these pages, we give an interpretation for Braille as another script that we can use to represent the letters or aksharas of the languages of India where the script is presented in a form which may be recognized by touch or feel. The discussion is in line with the Multilingual Systems project where software solutions for helping the Visually Handicapped have been developed at this Institute.

 Brief introduction to Braille

   Standard Braille is an approach to creating documents which could be read through touch. This is accomplished through the concept of a Braille cell consisting of raised dots on thick sheet of paper. The protrusion of the dot is achieved through a process of embossing. A cell consists of six dots arranged in the form of a rectangular grid of two dots horizontally and three dots vertically. With six dots arranged this way, one can obtain sixty three different patterns of dots. A visually Handicapped person is taught Braille by training him or her in discerning the cells by touch, accomplished through his or her fingertips. The image below shows how this is done.
Reading Braille by touch
 Each arrangement of dots is known as a cell and will consists of at least one raised dot and a maximum of six.  The image shown later in this page gives examples of embossed Braille cells. On a Braille sheet, the dots are created by embossing using a special printer or even a manual machine that simultaneously embosses the dots. Today, we also have Braille printers which may be connected to computers on standard printed interfaces. These are generally known as Braille Embossers.

  In the developed world, Visually Handicapped persons are taught to read Braille at a very early age.  They develop reading skills well enough to read the text books and reference material and attend schools, often with normal  children, to get integrated into the mainstream of life. 

  At this point one might ask "does Braille have the functionality of the printed medium?". The answer is surprisingly yes, and in schools for the Visually Handicapped, the libraries will be full of Braille text and reference books. It is true that Braille books are bulky and cannot be carried around just as easily as  printed books but the point to keep in mind is that we have to provide a suitable medium for the Visually Handicapped that will enable them to get educated in the first place. So providing them a resource, which could be bulky but which will allow them to read is important.

The Braille Cell

  A printed sheet of Braille normally contains upwards of twenty five rows of text with forty cells in each row. The physical dimensions of a standard Braille sheet are  approximately 11 inches by 11 inches. The dimensions of the Braille cell are also standardized but these may vary slightly depending on the country. The dimensions of a Braille cell, as printed on an embosser is shown below.

Braille Cell Dimensions
A sheet of Braille may thus appear to hold information amounting to about a thousand characters (letters of the alphabet). Later we will see that the designers of  the Braille system had foreseen the need to present information in compact form so that a set of cells could convey much more information in the string of letters forming the cells. Braille, it turns out, was perhaps the first to incorporate the idea of data compression in human readable form!

  The six dots forming the cell permit sixty three different patterns of dot arrangements. Strictly, it is sixty four patterns but the last one is a cell without any dots and thus serves the purpose of a space. A Braille cell is thus an equivalent of a six bit character code, if we view it in the light of text representation in a computer! However, it is not related to any character code in use with computers.

Standard English Braille

    In standard English Braille, many of the sixty three cells will correspond to a letter of the Roman alphabet,  or a punctuation mark.  A few cells will represent short words or syllables that are frequently encountered in English.  This is done so that the number of cells required to show a sentence may be reduced, which helps minimize the space requirements while printing Braille.  These special cells are used in specific ways along with regular cells to form sequences which are known as contractions.  Contractions are specified for most frequently used syllables and words and there is a standard list of contractions in English Braille.  To begin with, one is taught Braille without contractions and this is called Grade-1 Braille. Braille with contractions is known as Grade-2 Braille. 

  In standard Grade-1 Braille, the twenty six letters,  and some punctuation marks are used. No distinction is made between upper case and lower case letters.  Interestingly, numerals are not included in the set of symbols which have been assigned cells. Shown below is the table that corresponds to Grade-1 Braille. 

Braille Cells for the letters of the alphabet and punctuation
  In the above figure,  only thirty six of the sixty three cells are shown. The rectangular border around the cell has been added to make it easier for the reader to identify the dots correctly. This border is not part of the definition of a Braille cell and will not be seen in embossed documents. The cells have also been arranged in some order which will be explained in a subsequent page. A tutorial on Braille explaining the basic principle of the six dot system will be of interest to some of the readers.

    Try reading the following sentence shown in Grade-1 Braille! Use the table above for reference. 

Embossed Braille

   A sheet of Braille has been standardized to a size of approximately 11 inches in width and height, consisting of forty cells on each line and about twenty five lines on a page.  A sheet holds about a thousand cells (characters of text) but in practice, when contractions are used, it will be more.  The link below has some useful information on the dimensions for standard Braille cells and sheets.

The image below shows a portion of a sheet of embossed Braille. On a 1024x768 screen, the size of the cells will be very close to the dimensions as per the Braille embossing standards in use in most countries. 

Sample page  of embossed Braille
The text printed in Braille in the above image is in the Tamil language.

Today, Braille embossers can emboss Braille on both sides of a page. The dots on the reverse side of the page form depressions on the page in front and hence will not be felt while reading with the fingers.

The first image on this page also shows the dots embossed on the reverse. The dots on the reverse will be shifted and embossed without interfering with the dots on the front side.

Braille as a script

   Braille may also be viewed as a script built upon primitive shapes which are dots positioned on a grid. In conventional scripts the letters are drawn using primitive shapes which are stroked. The Braille cells cannot be reckoned as equivalent to the strokes but each cell corresponds to a letter of the alphabet or a special symbol used in writing a language. Hence Braille cells have to convey different information in different languages. That is, the interpretation of a Braille cell will be language dependent. Generally, countries of the world have assigned the letters of their languages to specific Braille cells according to their local requirements.  For an interesting discussion of Japanese Braille look at the link below.

   It must be noted that Bharati Braille (the Braille scheme adopted by India and some South Asian countries) has taken the best approach to presenting Indian language text through conventional Braille by using phonetic equivalents from standard English Braille to the extent possible. However, since there are only 63 different combinations available, only the basic vowels and the consonants of the Indian languages, which are about fifty in number, have been accommodated. Medial vowel representations are not possible and in Bharati Braille, one just writes the consonant followed by the vowel ad this is acceptable as a representation for a syllable.  It is easy however, to get tuned to this system of writing and visually handicapped persons seem to have little difficulty in using this scheme. We have included a discussion on Bharati Braille, its genesis and its implementation for Indian languages.

  Given below is an image of a text string in Devanagari followed by its representation in Bharati Braille. 

  As of now, Bharati Braille does not incorporate the equivalent of contractions for all Indian languages. For Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati, some contractions have been recommended, though there is a proposal for contractions in other languages as well.  So Bharati Braille is effectively Grade-1 Braille at this point of time.

Braille and Computers

  With the advent of computers preparation of Braille documents has been rendered easy and flexible. In the earlier days, Braille had to be printed using special Braille Printing units that worked more like typesetting printing presses. Computers have rendered the process simple where the required text can be typed normally on a computer terminal and automatically transcribed into Braille and printed. Transcription software will be language dependent but the rules of transcription can be programmed for each language. Bharati Braille may also be transcribed using computer programs by typing in the text in the vernacular. Software developed at IIT Madras may be used to advantage here.

Computer Braille (ASCII Braille)

  To print Braille using a device connected to a computer, the data corresponding to the cells has to be sent to the device, usually called the embosser.  The cells have to be associated with some codes for this purpose. This scheme is known as ASCII Braille. In this scheme, each braille cell will be specified by an ASCII value which will not be the same as the English character or the symbol the cell represents. When transcribing text to Braille, the Braille codes corresponding to the letters of the alphabet and special symbols are used. But when printing Braille,
the transcribed text is mapped aagin into ASCII Braille before being sent to the embosser. ASCII Braille is discussed further in a separate page.

Braille output using the IIT Madras Software

    The IIT Madras software has taken a phonetic approach to representing Indian Language text and so it is quite easy to convert the text prepared using the Multilingual editor into Braille codes. Just a simple table look up procedure is all that one would require and the program will convert text in the vernacular (a .llf file as prepared with the editor) into appropriate Braille codes for use with an embosser connected to a computer. 

    IIT Madras has made such a utility program available though it is not included in the editor package. This utility, called llf2brl works under Dos, Windows and Unix and converts a .llf file (generated by the multilingual editor) to produce a text file that could be sent directly to the braille embosser. The llf2brl utility is command line based and will work properly under Windows as well as Linux. An added  advantage of this utility is that it can prepare a file for subsequent processing with nfbtrans, a free transcription utility from the National Federation of the Blind, USA. It will be possible for one to prepare a bilingual Braille documents where Bharati Braille will apply to text in Indian languages while standard Grade-2 translation will apply to text in English.

 Additional information about this utility is available.

  Preparation of training material for trainers

  Useful information by way of training material for the Visually Handicapped may be prepared using the IITM multilingual editor. Documents for personnel who will train the handicapped persons may be prepared in multilingual fashion, converted to Bharati Braille on the fly and the resulting file formatted using transcription software already in use for standard Braille.  On-screen proof reading may also be done with ease using fonts incorporating the Braille cells. Such a font is freely available and may be downloaded from the site referred to in this link.  The page you are viewing was prepared in this fashion.

Braille Reference Links
(Technologies useful for the Blind)
(page relates to applications with accessibility features)
(Useful Accessibility related link)
(Blindness Resource center. Braille on the Internet)
(Doctoral thesis relating to the History of Braille)
(Papers relating to Braille: Scholarly issues like perception, learning Braille etc.)
(Alternate link for Liz Gray's references)
(General reference on aids for the blind)



The Braille cell

English Braille

Embossed Braille

Braille as a script

Braille and computers

IITM Software (Braille utilities)

Related information

A  tutorial on Braille
This tutorial introduces the system of Braille codes used for English and provides the basis for the assignment of codes.

Introduction to Bharati Braille
The principles of Bharati Braille are presented in this tutorial

Online Braille Quiz
Take an online quiz and test your understanding of Braille codes. This quiz is on standard English Braille.

A similar quiz is available for Bharati Braille in different Indian languages.


Web Sites

  Excellent discussions on the basic principles of Braille are available at many web sites. These are usually included in different sites providing information for the Visually Handicapped. 

The following sites are noteworthy for their presentations and are hence well known. 

 Liz Gray's pages

(Royal National Institute for the Blind, UK)

Additional links are included at the end of the column at left.



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Reading Braille. Braille Documents can be of great value for students, both for text books and references. Braille Terminals connected to computers offer a viable but expensive alternative to reading texts on the web. Speech enabled applications are slowly replacing Braille but have the potential to help visually handicapped persons gain skills in using computers.

Today is May. 27, 2020
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