Braille, invented in 1824 by Louis Braille, is a system of small raised dots that are read using the fingertips. Braille can represent everything from words to mathematical symbols to music.
While only 10 per cent of people impacted by blindness use braille as their primary reading method, many more use it for tasks such as labelling cupboards, cans or other food products at home, or reading signs on elevator buttons and other key features in the built environment. These could include room numbers in a hotel, marking public washrooms or locating emergency exits.
For those who use it as their primary reading method, braille is extremely important. It fosters literacy, allows someone who is blind or partially sighted to read independently and in private, and provides a method for writing. It can also be a fast and efficient way to read, unlike print, which can be tiring to read at length for many with blindness. People with congenital blindness may not be familiar with print characters and will most likely use braille to read.
Braille may not work for everyone with blindness. For example, someone with decreased sensitivity in their fingers resulting from diabetes may not be able to use braille.
There are two main types of braille: uncontracted and contracted. Just as sighted people have shorthand, some people impacted by blindness use a contracted version of braille that is space saving and allows for rapid reading and writing. Note that not all braille readers know contracted braille, so it’s not always appropriate in the built environment. The tactile signs section in Signage has many recommendations on when and how to use braille in signage.
In Canada, standards for producing braille codes in English and French are determined by Braille Literacy Canada.
When producing braille signage for the built environment, make sure that your supplier follows recognized guidelines such as those developed by Braille Literacy Canada.