How Does Braille Work?

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Steve Theunissen Profile
The Braille system utilizes a series of "cells" embossed in a horizontal row. Each cell represents either a letter, a number, a combination of letters or a word. A Braille cell consists of two vertical rows of three dots each, just large enough to permit the tip of the finger to detect the positions of all six dots. By varying the positions of the dots within the cell, a total of sixty-three different combinations is possible. In English Braille, twenty-six of these combinations, or "signs," are used to represent the alphabet, and the rest are used for punctuation, special contractions and short-forms.

The first ten letters of the English alphabet, a through j, are represented by combinations of the top four dots in the Braille cell. The numbers 1 through 9, and zero, are represented by these same ten signs preceded by a special number sign. The next ten letters, k through t, are formed by adding the lower-left-hand dot to the first ten letter signs. The last six letters of the alphabet repeat the first signs, but with both lower dots added. The letter w is an exception, since there is no w in the French alphabet for which the Braille system originally was designed. The remaining combinations are used for punctuation, special contractions and short-forms.

These contractions and short-forms often make Braille difficult to learn. Especially is this so if one has become blind late in life, since the only way to learn Braille is to memorize all the signs. For this reason, there are various "grades" of Braille.

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