A guide dog can help a visually impaired person to find their way and get around town and at home, but they cannot read for them.

That’s where Braille comes in. Braille is a way of writing any language in a way that visually impaired people can read.

Each braille character is based on a set of 6 raised dots arranged, 3 dots high by 2 dots wide. This gives 64 possible combinations of dots that are used to write the letters of the alphabet, numbers, punctuation marks and even whole words.

You might be surprised to discover that Braille wasn’t invented by an adult, but by a teenager at school.

Louis Braille was born in 1809 and went blind at the age of 3 due to an accident in his father’s workshop.  From the age of 5 he was a student at The Institute for the Blind in Paris, where he eventually became a teacher and stayed all his life.

He started developing his raised dots method when he was just 12 and finished it when he was 15 years old.

It was based on an earlier 36 dots system, representing the 36 sounds of the French language, which was developed for soldiers to communicate at night. But that was very complex and could not represent spelling or punctuation.

So the 12 year old Louis set about simplifying it and the Braille method he finished in 1825, at the age of just 15, is essentially the same braille we use today, almost 200 years later.

At 20 years old he published the first Braille book and at 28 added maths and musical symbols too.

How does it work?

On the downloadable Braille sheets are the 26 letters of the alphabet in Braille and a set of cells for creating your own Braille document.

You will also see the numbers 0 to 9 as well, which are the first 10 letters of the alphabet with an additional braille number in front of them and how to write a decimal point.

Capitals are marked with an extra character in front of them, either a single letter like someone’s name like Elizabeth, or the whole word like DNA

And finally there are punctuation marks, which let you write just the same as if you were writing for sighted people.

The dots are raised and each ‘cell’ is small enough to fit under a fingertip.  The reader learns the letters with their fingertips – and as they become more adept at recognising them a number of contractions help to speed up the reading process.

Try it yourself

Take a sheet of Braille cells and using the letters, write your name and a short message on a sheet and give it to one of your friends or classmates to decipher.

You can either write the message as visible dots or write it as a raised message for them to read with their fingertips. To do this use the point of a pencil or ball point pen, carefully push the correct dots through from the back of the sheet, so there is a small raised bump on the front of the sheet to spell out the words.

Remember that you will be working in reverse (from right to left and with your dots reversed) when you’re working on the back of the paper and don’t forget leave a space between each word.  It works best on thicker paper so you don’t rip the paper easily.

It will help you to understand the challenges that visually challenged students face.