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 code.

These are the specialist braille codes used in the UK:

Chess

Many blind and partially sighted people like to play chess.

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 and science

Unified English Braille incorporates signs for maths and science. There is therefore no longer a specialist maths or science code used in the UK.

Computer code

The basic purpose of the braille computer code is to represent characters or expressions used in texts relating to computers.

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 other braille codes.

Additionally computer braille introduces an 8-dot braille cell instead of the standard 6 dots. Dot 7 and 8 are found below dots 3 and 6 respectively.

Computer braille is mostly used with refreshable braille displays.

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.

Welsh braille uses the same general rules with regard to composition signs, punctuation signs, etc, as those stated in The Rules of Unified English Braille (2013). However, the alphabet, and the system of contractions used for grade 2 are specific to Welsh. In addition there are special signs for accents.

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 differences to English braille, for example special signs for letters with accents. For example:

  • in French, an "e" with an acute accent is represented by all 6 dots (this symbol represents the word "for" in contracted English braille) 
  • in German the letter "o" with an umlaut is represented by dots 246 (this symbol represents the letters "ow" in English contracted braille).

More details about foreign language braille codes can be found on the UKAAF website. The development and upkeep of braille rules tends to be managed by Braille Authorities in each individual country. A book entitled World Braille Usage summarises the basics of the braille codes used in over 140 countries.

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.