We take the Printed Word and make it Accessible

a blind woman reading a braille book in a library. She is wearing a green blouse and smiling.

All about Braille

Braille is a system of tactile reading, writing, and printing. It consists of a system of raised dots that people who are blind can use to read with their fingers. For the blind community, it is a key to literacy, education, and employment.

Since its inception over a century ago, CNIB has built a library of close to 100,000 books, magazines, films, and newspapers in alternative formats such as audio, braille and electronic text—enabling access to the world for Canadians that are blind or partially sighted.

For many Canadians with print disabilities, this has been the primary service of CNIB for many years.

History of Braille

Braille was invented in France by Louis Braille (1809-1852) and revealed widely to the public in 1829.

As a blind student, Louis Braille found the bulky raised-letter alphabet systems of his day inadequate and inefficient. He began experimenting with tactile codes after learning about a raised-dot system used by the French army to communicate at night. This led to publishing the first six-dot cell system that bears his name in 1829.

A photo of the Unified English braille alphabet.
Braille System

How the braille system works

Braille consists of combinations of tactual dots or points that represent letters and characters.

The foundation of the braille system is the braille cell. A complete braille cell is comprised of six dots. They are arranged in two parallel columns of three dots.

The positions of the dots are identified by the numbers one to three going down, and four to six in the second column going down. Each dot, or combination of dots, represents a letter of the alphabet, a number, or punctuation mark. Together, they can be used to express words, sentences, equations, musical notation and more.

Braille Transcription and Embossing

Braille transcription is taking the printed word and making it accessible for people that are blind. Words are transcribed into braille dots that can be read by braille reading software, or by touch on embossed paper.

Braille embossing is the printing of raised braille dots onto paper that can be read by touch. A braille printer, called an embosser, takes printed words and transcribes them into braille. It’s a form of technology that can print raised dots on paper so that braille users can read them.

Braille Transcribing software consists of software programs and electronic braille devices, like refreshable braille displays, which allow blind readers to access documents in audio or tactile formats.

Manual tools: A brailler (typewriter), or a slate and stylus can also be used to emboss braille onto special paper. 

A photo of a slate and stylus, used for braille embossing.

Learn braille

With over a century of lived experience, CNIB is an industry leader in braille transcription and embossing in Canada. CNIB Beyond Print is the only certifying body in Canada. We offer a variety of braille courses.