Braille

“Braille is knowledge; knowledge is power.” Louis Braille

The world of braille

a woman sitting at a table reading braille

Invented in 1824, by Louis Braille, the simple dot system is still considered by many people as the best reading system for blind people.

It is a brilliant tool for communicating and participating in society.

For children, it can mean the difference between being able to read or not. For adults with sight loss, it can mean reading again which raises confidence hugely at home and work. About 80 per cent of blind people in full-time work are braille readers.

Type your name in braille

Type your name on the line below to see it appear in Braille.

What is braille?

Braille consists of an arrangement of raised dots in a cell. These cells are composed of two dots across and three dots down – a total of six dots.  The dots create 63 different patterns. Each cell represents a letter of the alphabet, number, punctuation mark or other print symbol.

Uncontracted braille uses a cell for each letter.  The contracted version uses all 63 different combinations to represent whole words or combinations of letters. The contracted version makes reading quicker and easier – and saves space!

Everything you read in print can be produced using this dot system.  It makes those every day jobs like writing lists and labelling food easy. And you can read books and write poetry using the system too. At school, university or in the workplace, it can be used to access documents.

And, in this digital age, you can use an electronic braille device.  This connects to your computer, smartphone or similar electronic device so you can read or take notes wherever you are.

How can I learn braille?

Like any new skill, it takes time to learn.  On average it takes about four months to learn the uncontracted version and up to two years for contracted. But once you’ve picked it up, you’ve got it for life.

Here at the Blind Foundation, we teach people who are blind or have low vision of all ages by touch.   We have programmes for both uncontracted and contracted braille – so you can use what suits you best.  Our Keeping In Touch (KIT) programme teaches the uncontracted code, while Simply Touch and Read (STAR) covers the contracted version.

If you already use Blind Foundation services and want to learn braille, please get in touch on 0800 24 33 33 or braille@blindfoundation.org.nz for basic materials to get you started.

For sighted people wanting to learn, you might enjoy Australia’s University of Renwick free online course.   You can also contact the Blind Foundation on 0800 24 33 33 or  braille@blindfoundation.org.nz.

Blind or sighted, to gain certification, you can take the Trans-Tasman Certificate in Unified English Braille.

The Blind Foundation’s STAR programme is also available for people and organisations outside of New Zealand.  Simply phone +64 9 355 6562 or email afprequests@blindfoundation.org.nz  to find out about options and prices.

More Blind Foundation braille services

The Blind Foundation has a range of braille books in our Library. You can browse the catalogue to find a book for you.

If you’d like a personal item produced in braille, simply make a request to our team.  They will help you out.

The Blind Foundation Shop has a great range of braille products for sale.

Extra braille information

If you’d like to get latest news, you’ll enjoy the Blind Foundation’s Braille Mail newsletter.  You can choose to read it in braille, via email or through the Telephone Information Service (TIS) option 351.  To subscribe, get in touch on 0800 24 33 33 or braille@blindfoundation.org.nz.

The Blind Foundation has a fantastic activity book, Connect the Dots.  It’s a resource to teach people of all ages some braille basics.   You can read Connect the Dots in your preferred format:

Connect The Dots (.pdf)

To order printed copies you can get in touch with us on 0800 24 33 33 or braille@blindfoundation.org.nz.

Braille FAQ

Why learn braille when there is speech available on computers for people who are blind or have low vision?

Computer speech software is good for speed, but braille is truly comparable to print.

Hearing the spoken word does not always give enough information.  An example is that the way a word is said isn’t always how that word should be spelt. A spelling mistake is more obvious in braille than hearing a mispronunciation. Braille is also useful for labelling objects such as food in your pantry. You can also write notes and take down phone numbers as a sighted person would with a pen.

Are braille words spelt the same as written words?

Yes, but because it takes up around three times as much space as print, short-form words have been developed. The short-form is known as contracted braille and was adapted from the uncontracted code Louis Braille invented. Uncontracted code is most easily described as the braille alphabet. Every letter is represented, just as in print. For example the word ‘and’ in the uncontracted version would be written using the braille letters a, n, and d. The word ‘and’ in the contracted version would be written with a single character using a third of the space.

What happens to pictures and diagrams?

Diagrams and pictures can sometimes be explained in words without losing any information. In many cases though, a raised version is useful – these are called tactile diagrams or pictures.  The Blind Foundation produces these tactile versions.

Are there numbers in braille?

Yes. Writing numbers requires putting two characters together. By placing a special character called the number sign directly in front of letters A – J of the braille alphabet, you make the digits 0 to 9.

Can you braille music?

Yes. Notes such as A, B or F are represented by different combinations of the top four dots. Each note’s value (such as crotchet or minim) is represented by different combinations of the bottom two dots. Pitch and other musical symbols are represented through different combinations of the six braille dots in a cell before the music note.

Can you write braille any language?

Yes. Since the 1990s it has been used in almost every country in the world and has been adapted to almost every known language, from Albanian to Zulu. Even pictorial languages such as Chinese can be represented in braille. The Blind Foundation only teaches the English version.

How do you write in braille?

There are lots of different braille machines used in New Zealand. The most common manual one is the Perkins Brailler and the best known electronic one is the Mountbatten. There are also electronic braille note taking devices that produce raised dots on what’s known as a refreshable braille display.

Can it be on both sides of the paper like print?

Yes. This is called “interpoint” or “interline”. It is produced by a printer known as an embosser. When a book is produced like this you can read both sides of each piece of paper – just like a print book.

Can young children learn braille?

Yes, in the same way young children learn to read print. Most blind children and those with low vision will be taught the tool by a vision resource teacher through the Ministry of Education. They will use the same books as their sighted classmates, but their books will be in braille.  The Blind Foundation’s Accessible Formats Service produces a lot of those books.

Does it cost anything to learn?

The Blind Foundation only offers our full braille teaching service to Kiwis who are eligible to use our services.  These people can learn the code free of charge.

If you aren’t eligible to use our services, or are from overseas, you can learn through purchasing our STAR tutorial or accessing an online course.

How are braille standards set in New Zealand?

The Braille Authority of New Zealand Aotearoa Trust (BANZAT) is the national body responsible for setting and maintaining the standards in New Zealand.

Send a braille message

Would you like to make a braille reader’s day by composing your own braille message for a card or special event? Maybe you have a family member or friend who would be thrilled to hear from you in a braille message?
Our Accessible Formats Services Team are here to help and if you would like us to translate your text into braille, we will happily produce an embossed page from your text and send to you or directly to your recipient. All we ask from you is a small donation to help us create your braille message and to support our services to the blind community.

Submit your braille request