Specialist braille codes explained

The literary braille code is the most produced type of braille - books, magazines, reports, letters and more are produced in this format.

However, only 63 unique combinations can be made with the 6-dots of a braille cell. That's why specialist braille codes have been developed to represent print characters such as computer and scientific notation. These are the specialist braille codes used in the UK:

Chess

Many blind and partially sighted people like to play chess.

On the chess board the black squares are slightly higher than the white squares and the chess pieces fit into a hole in the middle of each square. Additionally all the black pieces have a point on the top to help distinguish between black and white pieces.

A braille chess code has been developed to help record the moves in a game, so that braille users can record their own games, as well as study other people's games or enter competitions. The code includes abbreviations for each chess piece, different kinds of move and game analysis.

Music

Braille music is an international code, meaning that scores produced in one country can be shared and read by musicians in other countries. The code has undergone several revisions since Louis Braille's day, the most recent by Bettye Krollick in the 1997 New International Manual of Braille Music.

The braille music code allows all standard signs used in print notation to be represented using one or more 6 dot cells. In its basic form, pitches are determined by the top two rows of dots, with octave signs to distinguish between the same note at different pitches, whilst note lengths are determined by combinations of the bottom row.

The code is capable of showing all kinds of music, from a simple melody to contrapuntal organ music and even full orchestral and choral scores.

Mathematics

The standard uncontracted and contracted braille codes include signs for numbers and basic arithmetic operators (plus, minus, multiply, divide and equals), as well as a method for writing fractions and the percentage sign.

The many symbols used in further maths and beyond, up to and including university level, are listed in the official statement of the rules of the braille maths code for the UK, which is titled Braille Mathematics Notation.

RNIB also has a useful publication entitled Using the braille Mathematics Code which lists all the symbols a student would need upto and including GCSE level maths.

There are a number of other braille maths codes used across the globe. The most well known is the Nemeth code used in the US which is named after Dr Abraham Nemeth who developed it.

Science

A braille code has been developed to reflect the specialist content encountered in the sciences. The broad areas include:

  • Units
  • Chemical notation - names, formulae and equations also structural formulae and the table of elements
  • Electronic and Logic circuit diagrams
  • Karnaugh Maps

The two reference texts relating to the science code are:

  • Braille Science Notation which is the official and full statement of the braille science code
  • Using the Braille Science Code which is a reference book written to assist teachers and students using the code whilst at secondary school (up to and including A level)

Computer

The basic purpose of the braille computer code is to represent characters or expressions used in texts relating to computers, and for material input to, or output by, a computer.

Crucially it is designed so that the most frequently occurring print characters have a single braille cell representation. One of the implications of this is that numbers are represented differently in computer coding compared to Standard English Braille.

Additionally computer braille introduces an 8 dot braille cell where eg. the 256 ASCII characters are represented by a single 8 dot braille code.

Welsh

The first Welsh braille book was produced in the 1900s. However, the Welsh braille code currently in use is a relatively recent innovation and was first published officially in 1996.

It uses the same general rules with regard to composition signs, punctuation signs and so on as those stated in British braille. However, the Welsh alphabet includes symbols for some common letter combinations, such as ll, dd, ff, rh.

The contracted version of the Welsh braille code includes symbols for the more common Welsh words and letter groups.

RNIB Cymru has funding from the Welsh Assembly Government and The Welsh Language Board to produce books in Welsh braille. It has recently produced the first English-Welsh/Welsh-English Dictionary in Welsh braille which was in 26 volumes; and also the New Testament and Psalms which on completion was 49 volumes of double sided braille.

Foreign languages

The 6 dot braille cell is used by most written languages across the world. Even those countries with different character sets such as Japan, the Arab Nations and Nepal have developed their own braille codes.

When learning the more common European languages such as French, Spanish and German, English speaking students tend to learn a form of the foreign language with only a small number of contractions. This would include characters for letters with accents and more commonly occurring letter groups. For example:

  • in French, an 'e' with an acute accent on it is represented by all 6 dots in the braille cell (this symbol represents the word 'for' in contracted english braille)
  • in German the letter group 'sch' uses the sign that means 'wh' when seen in English contracted braille.

The official braille codes for French, German and Spanish are available from the BAUK website

Shorthand

The shorthand braille code was developed along the lines of the popular Pitmans shorthand system to facilitate speedy note taking.

There are no books available in this braille code because, as with print shorthand, it was only ever designed to be read back by the person originating it.

Braille grade 3

Braille grade 3 is not an officially recognised code within the UK. However, a small handful of devotees do continue to use it.

It is basically another form of braille shorthand, which some people find easier to learn than the braille shorthand code. This is because it is an extension of the contracted version of braille rather than being developed from a print based system (Pitmans).

It uses short-form words, additional contractions (over 500) and outlining (the omission of vowels).

There are hardly any books available in braille grade 3 and there is no official standard.

Rule books

All of the specialist braille code rule books are available from the Braille Authority of the United Kingdom (BAUK) website.

You can also buy specialist braille notation guides from our online shop

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