Louis Braille and the Braille System

Braille was developed in the in the 19thcentury in France by Louis Braille. Louis Braille became blind at the age of 3 when he injured his eye while playing in his father’s workroom. He was sent to the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris. Most of the instruction there was oral but the students also used some books in a raised print system developed by the school’s founder Valentin Haüy.

A French army captain named Charles Barbier de la Serre invented the technique of using raised dots for tactile reading and writing and called it Sonography. He used a twelve dot system. His intention was to allow soldiers to read in the dark. His system was adopted by the school Louis Braille went to. Louis Braille recognized the usefulness of a tactile system and experimented. By the age of 15, he had developed a system based on normal spelling that used six dots instead of twelve to represent our normal alphabet. Unfortunately, his system was not accepted widely during his lifetime (Perkins School for the Blind, n.d.).

Nowadays, braille has been adapted for many languages and alphabets. There are several different braille codes. Literary braille is used for everyday situations, but there are also special codes available for music or technical reading and writing. The Nemeth Code is used for mathematical and scientific symbols (Hallahan, Kauffman, McIntyre & Mykota, 2010. pp. 306). In order to provide a single braille code that can be used for literary and technical material in the English-speaking world, the International Council on English Braille created the new Unified English Braille Code (UEB). At the moment, this code has been adopted by Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Nigeria, and South Africa. The Braille Authority of the United Kingdom (BAUK) will consider the adoption of UEB in 2013. The Braille Authority of North America (BANA) has not considering it at the moment but they are monitoring the results of the introduction in other countries (Round Table on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities Inc, 2011, para. 1-2).

Braille Alphabet

A single Braille cell looks like this:

Braille cell
The picture shows braille cell that consists of 6 dots. It is numbered 1 to 3 from top to bottom on the left and 4 to 6 from top to bottom on the right.

A braille character consists of raised dots. A Braille cell is made up of six dots that are arranged in two columns with three dots in each column. A braille character can be described by naming the positing where the dots are raised. A braille cell is numbered 1 to 3 from top to bottom on the left and 4 to 6 from top to bottom on the right.



Dot 3 was added to the characters a-j-

Dots 3 and 6  were added to the characters a-j.






Characters a-j were dropped one row.



Picture shows the letters of the alphabet plus the punctuation marks in braille.



The characters for numbers are the same as the characters a-j,

with the number sign at the beginning to turn them into numbers.

Uncontracted Braille or Braille Grade 1

Uncontracted Braille consists of all the letters of the alphabet and the punctuation. It was called Braille Grade 1 but the name tended to confuse people so it was changed to uncontracted braille where  each character in Braille is the same as the character in regular print. Braille takes up a lot of space so uncontracted braille is mainly used to teach children the alphabet. Books and other material in Braille are generally published in contracted braille. Braille characters are usually in lower-case but to capitalize a word, the dot 6 is used in front of the letter.

Do you want to test your braille reading skills?

This is a phrase in uncontracted braille from the novel The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

A phrase from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Not sure what it means?

Here is the translation:

“You only see well with the heart, what is important is invisible to the eye.”

You can watch a YouTube video that teaches you uncontracted braille.

Contracted Braille

Braille takes up a lot of space; in order to solve that problem, braille readers invented a shorthand called contracted braille or braille grade 2. It save a lot of space and allows faster reading and writing. There are a lot of different rules for how word or syllables are contracted and it is one of the reasons why learning contracted braille takes longer than learning uncontracted braille. In everyday life, braille readers normally use contracted braille.

This is the first half of the sentetence we just read “You only see well with the heart,”  in contracted braille.

The contracted version of the first half of the previous phrase from The Little prince

The contracted version of the first half of the previous phrase from The Little prince

This is the same part of the sentence in uncontracted braille. You can see that contracted braille saves a lot of space.

Unfortunately, we were unable to find any online tutorials that can help you learn contracted braille in the Unified English Braille Code (UEB) which is used in Canada. If you want to learn more about contracted braille in English Braille American Edition (EBAE) which is used in the United States, you can watch the following YouTube videos. The difference between contracted braille in EBAE and UEB is that the rules for contractions are slightly different.

The video teaches you how to memorize 50 out of 64 braille cells.

The video is about numbers, capital letters and italics

This video is about punctuation marks.

This video is about word represented by braille letters.

This video teaches you how to use multi cell contractions.

You can learn rules for writing braille.

This video allowes you to practise reading contracted braille.

Tips for Teachers

Learn braille! It is very helpful be able to read braille visually because it is the medium your blind or visually impaired student uses. Being able to read braille is useful especially if your blind student is in elementary school because they often use a mechanical or electronic braille writer and not a braille display. You can’t cheat and read your student’s text on a computer screen. Needing someone to transcribe braille into regular print might get slightly annoying. So make an effort to learn at least uncontracted braille. You only have to learn the alphabet and some punctuation marks. You will be astonished how fluent you are in braille after only one or two weeks. After high school I worked in as an aide at a School for the Blind and I learned it by writing short texts on a Perkins Brailler. After only two weeks I was fluent in reading and writing uncontracted braille. Learning contracted braille might take longer because there are a lot of rules you have to master.

There are several options available if you want to learn  how to read braille visually: watch the YouTube videos on our website, ask the teacher for the Visually Impaired for resources or register for a braille course at Hadley School for the Blind.

If you are interested in learning how to read contracted or uncontracted braille visually you can take an braille course at Hadley School for the Blind. Both courses are offered online and free of charge and you can start the course whenever you like. As the Hadley School for the Blind is an American school they teach English Braille American Edition. You can earn continuing education credit from ACVREP and from the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC). Unfortunately, you can only enroll in their courses if you are either a professional, volunteer or service providers who works with visually impaired individuals or you are currently enrolled in a blindness related university program. (Admissions, n.d.)

Hadley School for the Blind does not only offer braille course, they also offer other courses that will help general education teachers include braille reading students into their classroom such as braille teaching strategies, developing social skills or independence.

More information can be found at:

Braille Reading Technique for Sighted Persons

A Sighted person normally reads braille with his eyes as you would with regular print. Once you have mastered the braille characters it is easy to read.

Braille Reading Technique for Blind Students

According to Sasketchewan Learning students should have the following reading technique:

The surface of the reading material should be flat and at elbow level. Both hands should be gently curved so that the pads of the fingers rest on the line of braille. Hands should be parallel and wrists should be relaxed. Braille readers perceive Braille through the pads of the fingers. Most braille readers use two index fingers while some add the two middle fingers. The fingers move smoothly across the page while reading. Beginners often keep their hands together. More experienced readers use their hand independently. They read a line with the left hand until the middle of the line then the right hand finishes the line while the left hand locates the beginning of the next line. This creates a diagonal pattern. (2003, p.89)

You can watch a good demonstration of the reading process in the following video:


The Hadley School for the Blind (n.d.). Admissions. Retrieved from

Hallahan, P., Kauffman, J. M., McIntyre, L. J. & Mykota, D. (2010). Exeptional Learners: An Introductions to Special Education Canadian Edition. Toronto, ON: Pearson

Saskatchewan Learning (2003). Teaching Students with Visual Impairments A Guide for the Support Team. Retrieved from

 Special Education Technology British Columbia (n.d.). Supporting General Education Classroom Teachers of Braille-Reading Students.Retrieved from

Perkins School for the Blind (n.d.) Louis Braille and the Braille System Retrieved from


CNIB. (Photographer). (n.d.). Braille cell. [Web Graphic]. Retrieved from

CNIB. (Photographer). (n.d.). Contracted braille sentence. [Web Graphic]. Retrieved from

e-bility. (n.d.). Unified english braille alphabet. [Web Graphic]. Retrieved from


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