person reading braille

January 4th is recognized as World Braille Day. The date celebrates the importance braille has in the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired, and serves as a reminder about the importance of access and inclusion for individuals with vision loss. You may see braille on elevator and ATM buttons, but did you know there are actually two versions of braille and that it can be used to write almost any language?

Braille is the world’s most popular tactile reading and writing system. It was created by Louis Braille, and is a combination of raised dots to spell out letters and punctuation.

Did you know….

  1. Braille started as a military code called “night writing”. It was developed in 1819 by the French army so soldiers could communicate at night without speaking or using candles. Fifteen-year-old French schoolboy Louis Braille learned about the code, and eventually developed the more usable, streamlined version of the braille alphabet we know today.
  2. Braille takes up more space than the traditional alphabet, so braille books are much larger than their print counterparts. “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” is 10 volumes in braille, the “New American Bible’’ is 45 volumes and “Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary” is 72 volumes.
  3. Braille is not a language. It’s a tactile alphabet that can be used to write almost any language. There are braille versions of Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, Hebrew and many others.
  4. There is a special braille code for writing math. It is called the Nemeth code, and was invented by Abraham Nemeth, a math professor who was blind. By using this code, individuals can write everything from simple math problems to complex equations. There are also braille codes for writing music and chemistry.
  5. There are two versions of braille – contracted and uncontracted. In uncontracted braille, every word is spelled out. Contracted braille is a “shorthand” version where common words are abbreviated, much like “don’t” is a shorter version of “do” and “not.” Most children learn uncontracted braille before they learn the contracted version.
  6. There’s a good reason why braille is on the keypad buttons of drive-through ATMs. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that all ATMs must be accessible to people with visual impairments, and drive-through ATMs aren’t exempt. This mandate ensures that blind passengers travelling in the back seat of cars or taxis can reach the ATM and independently make a transaction without assistance from the driver.
  7. In recent years, toy companies have made great strides in ensuring every child has the opportunity to play some of the biggest classic family games, such as braille Uno, braille and low vision Monopoly and braille LEGO. 

Facts from: Perkins School for the Blind and The Chicago Lighthouse