Braille: the 'language' that you can touch

29th Nov 2013

Walking the streets of a large town or while visiting a museum, have you ever happened to find yourself in front of a surface, placed midair, and noticed many spread raised dots upon it? Perhaps not everyone knows that those dots represent a code called Braille, which is used by blind and partially sighted people to read and access information by touch.

A Braille character is based on a cell formed by two columns, each of which has three dots. The number and the arrangement of the raised dots in the cell is that which distinguishes Braille characters, numbers and abbreviations.

In the nineteenth century Napoleon ordered the invention of a tactile code to allow soldiers to communicate in the dark. The cells were formed by 12 dots and each cell represented a sound and not a letter. It was Louise Braille, a fifteen year old French boy who had been blind since the age of three, who suggested using six dots to represent letters instead of sounds – this would have allowed the reader to run their fingers over the cells more quickly. It was an important step in the creation of the code used today by blind and partially sighted people. Later, logograms and contractions were created, turning Braille into an independent writing system.

Millions of people across the world use Braille today amongst 120 countries; it is not considered a language but a code, as its characters change depending on the language spoken in the area. Around 130 languages have been transcribed into as many alphabets.

Braille in the UK

In the UK, institutions and organisations are well aware of  the issues related to accessibility for blind and partially sighted people: they encourage people to use Braille, considering it a way for blind people not only to be more independent but also to enjoy the pleasure of reading. The list of the London museums that offer facilities to blind people is surprisingly long, where Braille texts and tactile maps are available, in addition to the experience of audio descriptionand touching the objects. Some of the stations of the London Underground have instructions in Braille and tactile maps, and finally in the UK there is the largest Braille library of Europe, with its 25,000 titles (National Library Service in Peterborough).

Although there are people who are skeptical towards Braille and claim that the number of users has declined, and that Braille users have turned their attention to digital and audio devices, many other people, especially those who were born blind or lost their sight when they were very young, find it hard to imagine their lives without Braille. They are those who use Braille at school, at university, those who work using Braille and think that nothing can be closer to the printed word.

I am a translation project manager and I receive at least five requests every week for Braille transcription. This is a positive and comforting fact, meaning that there are many people who read it and that there are many local authorities, schools and hospitals that commit to guaranteeing the same rights to information for people with sight disabilities.  

Museum and galleries with facilities for blind and partially sighted people:

Transport for London, information for blind and partially sighted people:

The largest Braille library in Europe, The National Library Service in Peterborough:

For more information on how we can help you with your Braille requirements, please contact Pearl on 020 72537700 or

Giorgia Lo Faro, Translation Project Manager


For more information on our Braille Transcription Services, visit:


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