A Braille character is 6 dots – 2 columns of 3 dots – and is 28 point in size. Braille documents are set out on standard 11x11.5 in pages, in a 40x25 character grid. Page numbers are always set out in the same place on a page, and information about the text is provided in the layout. For example, paragraphs are indicated by being inset 3 characters from the left margin. The Braille characters in English are similar but not identical with those in Spanish or French. Bi-lingual Braille readers in the US tend to read Spanish using the English character set.
Reading Braille is fairly slow, even for good Braille readers. Many Braille readers also want DAISY as it is faster to scan the information. When they want to study information, Braille is usually preferred.
Braille literacy rates are fairly low. It helps to start reading Braille young. In the US, 80% of blind people cannot read Braille, frequently because they become blind later in life as a result of diabetes or macular degeneration. In the US, 80% of blind people are unemployed. In contrast, 80% of Braille literate blind people in the US are employed. If there is nothing you want to read in Braille, there is little incentive to learn Braille. So the availability of a comprehensive range of Braille materials is important.
There are no images in Braille files. Images, tables and diagrams are described by the Braille transcriber.
Blind people produced Braille originally by placing a plastic or metal grid over the page and pressing a rounded pin into the paper in a mirror image of the character. Some people can do this incredibly quickly. Then the Perkins Brailler was developed, which had 6 keys and a space bar to create the Braille character and would produce the character, not the mirror image of the character.
Modern Braille keyboards use the Perkins Brailler layout, but produce an electronic feed which tells the Braille typist what character they have typed. On the original Perkins Brailler, the typist had to stop, reposition the paper and feel the characters to know what they had written.
Braille comes in 2 forms – grade 1 – where each character in the language has a one to one translation into Braille – and grade 2 – where common Braille words are contracted and endings are contracted – see
Many Braille readers read contracted Braille as it is much faster to read, but as a result, their English spelling in not very good. Modern Braille keyboards allow electronic conversion from Braille to English, which improves the spelling of many Braille readers. Prior to that, Braille readers needed to learn to type on traditional typewriters. Some of these traditional typewriters had Braille characters embossed on the keys.
English and French Braille is normally contracted and this means that a compressed Braille file cannot be read by a sighted person looking at the Braille file. So there is little need for electronic file protection for these files.
There are contracted versions of Spanish and Portuguese Braille but they are not generally used. This means that a sighted person will be able to read the text of an uncompressed electronic Spanish or Portuguese Braille file, although it would be poorly laid out and difficult to read. Books with lots of images will be of little use – sighted people will want to see the images and not read the descriptions. However text books could be read in these languages.
There are at least 3 different versions of English Braille: American and Canadian, UK and Unified English Braille Code. Mathematics is a separate language. The Unified English Braille Code changes the contractions in Braille so that there is a one to one translation from Braille into English, allowing an easy translation to and from Braille. The characters used in English and mathematical Braille are the same.
A 200 page book would be about 600 Braille pages, but with double sided Braille embossers, would be about 300 pages. This book would need to be in 3 volumes. Most Braille books have volumes of less than 100 physical pages. The pages are ring bound so that they lie flat. The covers need to be embossed and usually printed with ink so that both Braille readers and sighted people can identify different volumes.