Literacy and Braille

Braille is a tactile system for representing the written word that is used as an alternative to reading and writing print by people who are blind or low vision. It is not a language but rather a code—a system for representing the alphabet and words—in a language such as English. For people who use braille, it provides a means of independent literacy—that is, they can read and write without assistance from anyone else. The braille code used today in the United States was invented by a Frenchman, Louis Braille, in the 1800s.

How Does Braille Work?

Braille writing comprises a series of raised dots formed into “cells” consisting of six dots in two vertical rows of three dots each. Many people refer to the dots in the cell by number, with dot one being the top left dot, dot two the middle left dot, dot three the bottom left dot, and, on the right side, from top to bottom, dots four, five, and six. The six dots in the cell can be arranged in 64 different combinations.

In braille, there is a dot configuration for each letter of the alphabet. You may hear the term uncontracted or grade one braille used to refer to words spelled letter-for-letter in braille as in print. Contracted or grade two braille uses what are termed “contractions” or short forms to write words. There are 180 contractions. For example, when the letter “b” (dots 1-2) stands by itself, it is the word “but.” Many contractions can be used as both whole words and part words. The contraction for the word “child” (dots 1-6), is also used within words to stand for the letters “ch” (part word), such as in the word “chop.”

A dot six is added in front of another letter configuration to capitalize a letter. This capital sign is one of several signs referred to as composition signs unique to the braille code; there are no equivalents in print.

Braille books are embossed (printed) on special braille paper. Because braille letters take up more space than their equivalent in print and the raised dots take up more vertical space, braille books can be quite large and often require several volumes. However, braille can also be read from computer files using electronic devices known as refreshable braille displays connected to a computer. (For more information, see “How Students Who Are Blind Read and Write”).

Contracted Versus Uncontracted Braille

Most books that are prepared for braille readers are in contracted braille. Thus, many teachers of students with visual impairments (TVIs) will introduce children to contracted braille beginning in preschool. The advantage of this approach is that a child will be reading and writing words from the beginning in the way he will ultimately do so. He will also have access to a wider array of materials in braille. The disadvantage to introducing contracted braille to young children is that they have to learn braille contractions in addition to the 26 letters of the alphabet. Also, because they are learning contracted forms, such as writing the word “but” as the letter “b,” they may not develop as strong decoding and spelling skills as their sighted peers.

Some TVIs will start teaching students uncontracted braille for the first few years and then gradually introduce contractions in early elementary school. This method allows the child to build a solid foundation in decoding and spelling before learning “shortcuts” in the form of contractions. The disadvantage is the limited amount of uncontracted braille material available to the child.

The decision about whether your child should begin by learning uncontracted or contracted braille is complex. The TVI will need to weigh the options and discuss them with you and the other members of your child’s educational team to make a decision that will be appropriate for your child.

Learning Braille

When children learn braille, they need to learn many of the same things that other students do when they learn to read—for example, how to pronounce the individual letters and sound out words or decode them from their context in a reading passage. However, additional skills must be learned, including the ability to feel the dots distinctly, to move steadily and evenly along a line of braille, and so forth. Just as beginning print readers often confuse similar letters such as “b” and “d,” braille readers may also make such errors, but the letters they reverse will be different (such as “e” and “i”). Braille readers also have more symbols to learn, and they won’t encounter all the braille contractions and symbols until they are reading at a third-grade level. Beginning braille readers need to work consistently with a TVI and their classroom teacher to become fluent readers.

As a parent, all you do to help your child get ready for reading, such as reading frequently and pointing out the print and braille you see, will help your child begin to learn braille. You might also want to learn some braille to better understand what your child is learning. The Hadley School for the Blind offers correspondence courses in braille for parents and family members of children who are blind or low vision.

Adult and child, hand over hand, touching a braille picture book

Are You a Parent Wondering If You Should Learn Braille?

Since learning of your child’s eye condition, I am sure millions of questions have been running through your head. How is my child going to play? How is my child […]

Read more
image of a book facing out, resting in a person's hand as if being presented.

Reading Aloud to Help Your Child Who Is Blind or Low Vision Develop Empathy

It seems empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is something we could all use a bit more of today. Wouldn’t it be a far healthier […]

Read more
A bookshelf with an assortment of books such as Heidi, The Green Ember, Macbeth, The Giver, Brown Girl Dreaming, and 100 Cupboards.

TeenTober: Cultivating a Fondness for Reading

Editor’s note: TeenTober™ is a new, nationwide celebration hosted by libraries every October and aims to celebrate teens, promote year-round teen services and the innovative ways teen services helps teens […]

Read more
Plastic braille writing slate and stylus on brown table.

How Students Who Are Blind or Low Vision Read and Write

If your child has little or no usable vision, they will probably be learning to read and write in braille. Braille is a code—a system of dots representing the letters […]

Read more
Child reads braille with pointer fingers

Free Braille Books for Children 

APH ConnectCenter For Families is on a mission to make obtaining braille books easier. We’ve compiled a list of organizations offering free braille books or materials for children in the […]

Read more
Fingers reading a braille page.

Braille: The Doorway to Literacy

As we celebrate Louis Braille’s birthday and World Braille Day on January 4 – and Braille Literacy Month throughout January – it’s an ideal time to consider how important it is for […]

Read more
Touch and feel Board book with braille and a young child feeling the page.

Story Boxes

Story Boxes are an interactive way to enjoy books with your whole family! Story boxes provide tactile representations of and sensory enhancements to parts of a story. Think about your […]

Read more
A hand turning the large print page of a book.

How Students with Low Vision Read and Write

If your child has low vision—that is, has an eye condition that interferes with the ability to perform daily activities—may read standard print or enlarged print, or may use one […]

Read more
image of a child sitting on a sofa with a copy of The Railway Children cracked open with the pages down and the spine and cover facing up. The child has switched from reading to working on an embroidery hoop with in the pattern of a bee.

16 Tips for Encouraging a Struggling Reader Who Is Blind or  Low Vision

Maybe you, too, have a struggling reader who panics when it’s time to read aloud at school or home. Perhaps your child has labeled themself a poor reader or student and […]

Read more
Blind child reading book written in Braille at table, closeup.

Helping Your Child Develop Literacy Skills

In today’s information-based society, literacy—the ability to read and write—is a more important part of life than ever. In the early grades of elementary school, your child will be spending […]

Read more
shelves of books in a library

Free Downloads of Books & Manuals!

Are you trying to learn how to use or troubleshoot an APH product but can’t find the manual? Do you need an accessible user guide for an instructional kit purchased […]

Read more
This site is registered on as a development site. Switch to a production site key to remove this banner.