Four Misconceptions to Learning and Reading Braille

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January Is Braille Awareness Month

engraved image of Louis Braille and his birthplace

January is braille awareness month, in honor of Louis Braille, the inventor of the raised dot system of reading and writing. He was born January 4, 1809. If you were born without sight or limited vision, there is a very good chance you learned braille at an early age, and that is how you learned to read and write your way through school. For many of us who are able to read print or could access it at one point in our lives, braille is like another "language." In fact, we may even consider it a language that individuals who are blind or visually impaired use to communicate with one another. These are misconceptions about braille that I think sometimes get in the way of learning or using braille for individuals who acquire a vision loss later in life.

The Creation of Braille

Louis Braille developed a system of raised dots that simply provided a symbol that could be felt for each character of the alphabet and punctuation symbols. At the time Louis Braille invented his system, students who were blind like him often used raised print letters. They also used embossed letters on paper to learn the alphabet and read the few books that existed in embossed print. Raised dots on paper were easier to create, both for reading and writing notes, and later for embossing books. In fact, long before braille was widely adopted, the students at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris, where Louis Braille went to school, quickly adopted his system of writing to pass notes among themselves that no one else could read!

Louis Braille’s idea for using raised dots was inspired by Charles Barbier’s more elaborate system of "Night Writing." Barbier developed this system for French soldiers so that they would have the ability to pass written communication back and forth at night, without needing to use a light. Ironically, braille was originally inspired by raised dot writing developed for fully sighted soldiers needing to read in the dark!

Braille Is Not Another Language

While there are certain rules in braille one would not find in print and contractions that do not exist in print, it is nonetheless just an alternative set of tactile symbols for the language of the user—whether that is English, French, Spanish, or virtually any other language. Therefore, braille is not another language but more a communication or literacy tool used to access information for those with vision loss.

Braille Not Just for Literary Pursuits

Another misconception seems to be that braille is primarily used for literary pursuits, like reading journals, books, and school textbooks. One of the handiest ways to use braille is for creating quick labels for clothing, appliances, food, spices, cleaning chemicals, CDs, and so much more. The level of expertise for reading these tactile labels does not have to be high. A very slow braille reader could quickly tell the difference between a gallon jug of bleach and a jug of glass cleaner with a few letters transcribed to braille on an adhesive plastic label or a note card tied to the neck of the bottle.

Braille Is Still Relevant with Advancements in Technology

A man in an office uses a braille note taker

With the proliferation of screen readers, converting the text on a screen into speech on computers, tablets, and smartphones, we’ve heard again and again that the need or relevancy of braille is much less than it was before these electronic devices. Ironically, these devices have embraced braille in the last few years to make braille even more available! I shared about this braille technology in a previous post on VisionAware. Many off-the-shelf devices including Windows 10, Mac and iOS devices, Android tablets and phones, the latest Kindle Fire tablets, and many more support a variety of braille displays. By connecting a braille display, users are able to read email, web pages, and books in braille using a portable braille display that can easily be put in a pocket or backpack! In fact, as we celebrate the 208th anniversary of Louis Braille’s birthday and his invention that transformed reading for individuals with a vision impairment, we are awaiting the distribution of the Orbit Reader 20 from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) among other organizations. This distribution will reduce the cost for an electronic braille reader to below $500!

Lack of Interest in Braille When Vision Loss Is Later in Life

Photo of older people in a class

Lastly, it’s been my experience, with the occasional exception, most individuals with an acquired vision loss who did not grow up using braille express little interest in learning even the alphabet. Learning the alphabet would be enough to do some simple labeling around the house, workshop, or office. I wonder to what degree braille, like the long white cane, may simply be stereotypical symbols of vision loss that some are just not ready to embrace regardless of their value? If that describes you, the beginning of a new year is always a great time to stretch and make a commitment to try something new!

I have shared four misconceptions about learning and reading braille, but I am sure there are more. So, let’s get the conversation going as we honor Louis Braille this month. What misconceptions have you heard about braille? Have you learned braille? Why or why not? Is braille an important part of your life? Share your thoughts and comments in the section below.

Braille Resources

For readers interested in learning more about braille, a great place to start is through a correspondence course taken via postal mail with the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired. The courses are at no cost, and there are several on braille. For more information, visit or call 800-323-4238. Readers may also find a local service provider by consulting the Directory of Services on VisionAware. Many state agencies providing vision rehabilitation services will have professionals who can teach braille.

Learn More About Braille

All About Braille

Braille Technology: What's New and Emerging?

Reading, Writing, and Vision Loss

Check out Steve's blog post, "31 Days of Braille"

Low Vision
Planning for the Future
There are currently 3 comments

Re: Four Misconceptions to Learning and Reading Braille

I learned braille in my late 30's when I was a new vocational rehabilitation counselor and had over 100 case files in a 4 drawer filing cabinet that I needed to be able to pull and read quickly. No matter how hard I tried, I could not get my nose close enough to the large print lables on the folders in the bottom drawer. A colleague suggested I learn braille and it changed my world. I learned the alphabet in 3 evenings, working with a friend who read and taught braille as a part of his job. As soon as I had learned the entire alphabet, he told the receptionist at work to give me all my phone messages in braille from now on. I will never be a fast reader like someone who learned braille as a kid, but I will forever be grateful that someone suggested that I should learn braille. I use it every day at home and at work. It's one of the top 3 tools in my tool kit.

Re: Four Misconceptions to Learning and Reading Braille

Yes Steve, I was one of those young teenagers who didn't see the value at the time as my sight faded and I stuck to visual learning with a typewriter. Braille was too foreign to my way of thinking as I feared being cast into a stereotype from my peers to be the only girl at the school who was 'different'. Neva's comment above is very encouraging - and who knows, I may begin learning it yet...3 nights to learn the alphabet? That is great news!

Re: Four Misconceptions to Learning and Reading Braille

I can relate to this very well. I was a child at one time who refused to learn Braille because I could see a little bit.So I thought it didn’t apply to me. But over the year I realized that
Braille applied to me because I have glaucoma, a progressive eye condition that could take my site sometime in my future.So at some point I will need Braille in my life. I’m also going to need braille when I work as a teacher for the blind and visually impaired. I am not afraid of Glaucoma because I know Braille and other Blindness skills I learned throughout the years.

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