Designing Inclusive Images and Words


Image: Braille


Braille is a reading and writing system made up of raised dots that people can read with their fingertips (World Braille Foundation, n.d.). Braille uses dots to represent alphabetical letters, numbers, punctuation marks, musical notes, and scientific characters, and it is typically used by people who are blind, Deafblind and partially sighted (Royal Blind, 2017). In this section, we will become familiar with braille and its history.

Developing an Understanding:

Braille Alphabet

Image: Braille Alphabet

Written symbols are created in braille by combining six dots in something called a braille "cell". To read braille, the fingers move over paper that has been embossed with the braille code. (CNIB, 2017).

People can also take notes in braille by using stylus, which looks like a pointed pen that is used to poke dots into paper held in place by a slate (World Braille Foundation, n.d.). The paper can then be removed from the slate and flipped over so that the raised dots can be read as braille.

Braille, named after its French inventor Louis Braille, was inspired by a form of communication used by the military called “night writing.” Night writing represents sounds and letters in twelve dot squares or “cells” (Braille Works, 2017). Louis Braille created the six-dot cell, which lets a person’s fingertip feel all the dots at once. In 1854, France adopted braille as its official written communication system for people who were blind, Deafblind, and partially sighted; in 1860, braille was adopted in America by The Missouri School for the Blind (Braille Works, 2017).

A braille cell is made up of six dots that are numbered in a certain order and each dot or combination of dots makes up a letter of the alphabet (CNIB, 2017).

Deepening Your Understanding

In this TED Talk, Ron McCallum discusses how he learned to read. As a child in the 1950’s, he read books transcribed into braille. In high school, his family and friends would read books to him which he would record on a tape recorder and later, in graduate school, inmates from Collins Bay Institution volunteered to read into his tape recorder for him. He also describes the history of assistive technology, beginning with the Keynote Gold 84k in 1987, which was designed with a speech synthesizer that read back what blind users had written. In 1989, McCallum began using Kurzweil, a text to speech software that scanned books and then read them out loud with a synthetic voice, and he expresses the usefulness of Job Access With Speech (JAWS), a software that reads out the text on a computer screen out loud. Lastly, he explains why the World Wide Web Consortium 3 (W3C) has developed worldwide standards for the Internet so that websites are accessible and how copyright laws created a barrier for the creation and distribution of books in braille.

Headshot of Ron McCallum

Ron McCallum

Ron McCallum AO is an industrial and discrimination lawyer and a prominent human rights advocate. He has had a long career as a legal academic and teacher. In 1993, McCallum became the first totally blind person appointed to a full professorship at an Australian university when he became Professor in Industrial Law at the University of Sydney. He served as Dean of the University of Sydney Law School for five years and is now an emeritus professor. McCallum is also chair of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (McCallum, 2013).