About Braille

Braille is a reading and writing system of tactile dots for blind people. Braille was developed by, and named after, Louis Braille.

How do inkprint words and braille words differ?

Braille Cells and Braille Context

Braille characters (or "cells") are composed of up to six dots arranged in two columns of three dot positions each. The dot positions are customarily numbered as follows:

1 • • 4
2 • • 5
3 • • 6

There are 64 possible combinations of raised dots within this pattern (counting the space, where no dots are raised). The meaning of a braille cell, a braille word, or a braille paragraph is determined by the language and the braille code used.

A braille code is a system that assigns meaning to the various combinations of braille cells, together with rules for when those combinations can be used. For example, in English Braille and many other languages, the dots 1-5 combination (that is, dots 1 and 5 raised, the others un-raised) normally means the letter "e". In some circumstances, though, it can also mean the digit "5," and in other circumstances can be a contraction standing for the word "every." In Korean braille, the same dot pattern means or Choseong Mieum. In Japanese braille, it means or ra. The rules of usage are such that the meaning in any given context is clear.


There are two main forms of braille. The first is "grade 1" or "uncontracted" braille. The second is "grade 2" or "contracted" braille. Like many languages, English braille can be either contracted or uncontracted. Some languages, such as Hindi, are always uncontracted.

A contraction is an abbreviated way of writing something in braille. For example, in English contracted braille, the word "the" is written as a single cell (dots 2346), rather than use the three cells that represent the individual letters. That same single-cell contraction is used in most cases where the letters "t-h-e" occur within a word, as in "chrysanthemum." It is not used, however, in instances such as in the compound word "sweetheart."

Contractions sometimes use single ordinary letters or symbols, relying upon context clues to keep the meaning clear. For example, in English contracted braille, the contraction for the letters "ea" is the same cell (dot 2) that normally represents a comma -- and for that reason, the "ea" contraction is never used when it comes at the end of a word (as in "Chelsea").

Many contractions consist of several cells in braille. For example, the word receive is written as the three letters rcv.

In some languages, contractions can represent not only groups of letters and whole words but even groups of words.

Braille Standards for English

The most important braille standard in the English-speaking world is Unified English Braille, or UEB.

Braille standards for Canada, New Zealand and the United States of America are set by the Braille Authority of North America (BANA).

In the United States, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress sets standards, based upon BANA's, for its braille producers.

In the United Kingdom, the braille standards are set by the UK Association for Accessible Formats (UKAAF) (formerly BAUK).

Braille Standards for Other Languages

In other countries and locations, standards may be set by a similar national or international authority, or by schools or agencies for the blind or other established producers.

Duxbury Systems consults with experts around the world to endeavor to support the best standards that are available.

It can be tricky to use DBT on a text written in an unfamiliar language. It is best to prepare a short text for the braille reader to make sure that you are using the optimal braille code and format. Be aware that you can e-mail languages@duxsys.com if you need assistance in this area.

Additional Background

Many books have been written about Louis Braille and about the system of reading and writing that he developed. Both subjects are too large for in-depth treatment here, but a good starting point for further information about braille is the resource section of Duxbury's website at: http://www.duxburysystems.com/braille_main.asp