Braille Transcription FAQ

What is braille?
Braille is a method of reading and writing by means of raised dots so that people who are blind can read with their fingers. Braille was developed in 1821 by Louis Braille, a French school boy.

Is braille an international language?
Braille is not a language. It is a way to represent the words, numbers, punctuation, and special features of a language by various raised dot configurations. Braille has been adapted to hundreds of languages and dialects throughout the world.

Should the word “braille” be capitalized?
Initially “braille” was capitalized out of respect for Louis Braille, the man who devised it. Over the years, “braille” has become a widely recognized commonplace word in the English language. Today the predominant practice is to begin “braille” with a lower case letter except when it begins a sentence or is a person’s name. Those who prefer to capitalize it regardless of usage are also correct.

How does a person become a braille transcriber?
Braille transcribing certification is governed in the United States by the Library of Congress. The person must complete a series of lessons that may take up to a year to finish. Braille transcribers are certified by the National Library Service of the Library of Congress after passing a final certifying examination.

What kinds of things can be put into braille?
Virtually anything in print can be put into braille. There are braille codes for literary materials, music, complex math and scientific notation, and computer-related material. Certification in each of these areas is available for the transcriber who takes the required course and passes the final certifying test.

Why does a braille book have so many more pages than the same book in print?
Print fonts come in many sizes. There is only one size of braille font; it is roughly equivalent to a 24-point Arial print font. Also, braille is embossed on special heavy weight paper that roughly corresponds to card stock used for file folders and index cards. Thus, braille takes more space and thicker paper than print, usually three braille pages for each print page, and sometimes even more.

For example, the popular book Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is available in one big print book. It takes 14 separate braille volumes to do that book in braille.

A reason for the success of Louis Braille’s code is that it may be read with one pass of the pads of the fingers over the braille. If the dots are too close together they can’t be discerned by the reader; if they are too far apart the reader would have to feel around to get the information. An exception is “jumbo braille” used in some special education situations.

Is braille really needed today with the availability of talking computers and other electronic instruments?
Although electronic devices are important tools, they cannot replace the ability to read and write. For those with profound vision loss, it is braille that provides thorough understanding and command of a written language.