Frequently Asked Questions

What is braille?

Braille is a system of reading and writing using raised dots. It allows people who are blind to read with their fingers.

Combinations of dots make characters that represent letters and punctuation marks. Most of the shapes don’t look like the print characters they represent.

Each braille character fits under a single fingertip and the braille is read, left to right, one character at a time. The shape of the character is determined by which combination of the six-dot foundation character is used. There are 63 possible combinations.


Why not just use raised letters?

Raised letters would have to be much larger than a fingertip. In addition, embossed dots are easier to recognize than the lines and curves of roman characters.


How is braille written and produced?

Conventional paper is not suitable for braille because the dots must be raised in order to be felt. Dots on conventional paper are too fragile to keep their shape. It’s the equivalent of trying to read print that is just too faint. Braille paper is about as thick as a file folder or index card.

A simple device called a slate allows a sheet of braille paper to be inserted. The slate has standard indentations built in that form the standard size braille dots. A stylus is used to punch out each letter, one dot at a time. This is the equivalent of paper and pencil. Slates come in various lengths to accommodate various sizes of paper. A pocket size slate is often used to take quick notes or to jot down that phone number. Click here to see slate and stylus.

A braillewriter is the equivalent of a typewriter. It is about the size of an old-style portable typewriter, but it has only six keys, one for each braille dot. A sheet of braille paper is inserted into it and hard copy braille is produced by depressing the keys that correspond to the appropriate dots. Click here to see a braillewriter.

Most braille today, especially braille books and other publications, is produced on a computer, using special software. This is the equivalent of word processing. A braille file can be created and printed. A braille printer is called an embosser and it produces hard copy raised dots. Braille printing is usually termed embossing because it does produce raised characters, and also to differentiate it from conventional printing.


How does someone become a braille transcriber?

Braille transcribers are certified through the National Library Service of the Library of Congress after passing a certifying exam. The NLS provides a course of study that takes about a year to complete. For further information, visit this website.

The basic braille course is a series of lessons, usually taken with a local transcriber or by online correspondence. To preview the lessons, click here.


Do braille transcribers get paid?

Braille transcribing has traditionally been a volunteer occupation and many transcribers do work as volunteers. Transcribers also work as employees of schools, special education departments, and other braille producing agencies. Many transcribers also work from their homes as independent contractors.

It may take several years to acquire the skills and experience necessary to be qualified for paid work. Newer transcribers usually work under the supervision or mentorship of transcribers who are already established in this field to acquire these further skills.


How does National Braille Association (NBA) help transcribers?

The National Braille Association is a nonprofit membership organization for transcribers. It is the only national organization of its type in the country. NBA offers twice-yearly professional development conferences at various locations throughout the nation and offers assistance and resources regarding technical braille issues.