What is braille and how does it work?

A person's hand feeling braille text on a page. Text on image reads: how does braille work?

Braille is an effective mode of communication for those who are visually impaired – today we celebrate and learn more about Braille.

How does braille work?

Braille is a tactile writing system that enables those who are visually impaired to read and write. Typically printed on thick, embossed paper, tiny raised dots allow the person to read text by identifying patterns with their fingertips. The dots are divided in cells three dots tall and two wide (like the 6th face of a die). Each pattern of dots represents a letter of the alphabet. These patterns are the same across every language that uses braille, although there are many different versions including contractions – the English language uses 3 grades. 

A visual representation of braille cells spelling the word "braille" itself. Text underneath says "more than 20,000 people in the UK use braille to communicate"

Who invented braille?

This form of communication was created by French educator Louis Braille when he was only a teenager. He built upon an existing military tactile writing system called “night writing”, which was developed after Napoleon’s demand for a method for soldiers to exchange messages silently and in the dark. Reading and writing systems for visually impaired people at the time involved using fingertips to trace raised alphabet letters – this was very hard due to the complexity of the shapes. Braille’s alphabet was not only easier, but much faster to use. 

A black and white photo of a person reading a document titled "Unesco Braille Review" in braille

How do you write in Braille?

Braille can be handwritten using a stylus and using it to impress a dot on the back of the page, mirroring the letter one wants to write. There are also a number of braille typewriters and printers available. Because braille writing cannot be erased, a mistake is marked by raising all six dots in a cell.

What about digital screens?

Braille has kept up with technology in amazing ways! Refreshable braille displays receive the text on the screen and output the braille equivalent through mechanic pins that raise and lower to create the correct dots pattern. Though many visually impaired people use screen readers, which read aloud text from screens, mechanical braille technology is still an invaluable method of communication for those who are deafblind

A woman's hands typing on a braille keyboard

Accessibility at Sense

We believe no one should ever be left out of communication, no matter how complex their needs may be. That’s why we publish our resources in a number of accessible formats including braille.