Modern Braille: The "Big Picture"
In this section, we'll present you with some of the "big picture" concepts that you will need to understand in your study of braille and braille transcribing. The good news is that the braille code has boundaries: that is, there are only 63 possible (26, or 2x2x2x2x2x2) characters, or "cells" and a finite number of rules. The bad news is that the English language is full of idiosyncrasies that sometimes makes interpretation of the rules challenging. The purpose of this course is to fully engrain in your memory banks the 63 cell combinations and the rules for their use. Experience and wisdom will provide you with the tools you need to become a master
The basic braille cell consists of 6 dots: two vertical columns of three dots each, that is:
We typically number these dots as follow: 1-2-3 down the left side, starting at the top, and 4-5-6 down the right side starting at the top. You should get into the habit of thinking about braille cells by their numbers. This will help if you are using a brailler on some occasions and a slate/stylus on another. For purposes of this course, we will talk about cells by number patterns, i.e., 1-2-4-5 (the letter "g").
Braille consists of the following components:
- the basic 26 letters of the alphabet
- standard punctuation signs, such as period, commas, and the like
- special composition signs, which are peculiar to braille. These are signs such as the capitalization sign, the number sign, and the letter sign
- part-word contractions: these represent frequently used part-words, such as "ing", "ed", and "ble". Some part-word contractions are also used as whole-words, such as "st" also meaning "still".
- whole-word contractions: these represent whole-words, such as "and", "the", "lord". Those of you who are familiar with religious literature (such as the Bible) will notice that many of the part- and whole-word contractions were chosen due to their frequency of use in those pieces of writing. In addition to education, a clear goal of braille was to help blind persons in their understanding of theological and spiritual concepts. In all, there are almost 190 part- and whole-word contractions for you to learn and master!
Braille is produced with several types of tools:
- slate and stylus: described above, the slate and stylus allows ease of writing and note-taking in its portability. One drawback to this method is that the writer needs to write from right to left and inverted, so that when the paper is removed from the slate and flipped over, the dots can be read from left to right and in their proper orientation. Many textbooks, including the Instruction Manual for Braille Transcribing from the Library of Congress, show all of their examples with braille as it appears to the reader and as it is produced on the slate and stylus.
- braille writer: this is a typewriter that allows for production of braille in the same manner as a typewriter is used for sighted persons. The most common writer is the Perkins brailler, which
has one key per dot, a space bar, and other keys for moving the paper
- computer-generated braille: there exist several "translation" software programs that convert
documents created on standard word processors, like WordPerfect, into code that is sent directly to a braille printer. These systems will be explored briefly in the later sessions.
In addition to literary braille (used for most transcribing situations), there are also specialized codes for technical subjects, such as mathematics and music. A brief discussion of these codes with examples will be presented in the later sessions.