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My first time teaching Braille was as a sixth-grader to my best friend, Megan. We passed my Perkins Brailler across the aisle and wrote each other notes. She brailled out the agenda each morning and added jokes for me at the bottom. I created word search after word search to help her identify and memorize her letters, gradually increasing their difficulty, and I brailled a new copy of the Braille Dictionary my TVI [Teacher of the Visually Impaired] had given me.
I took much the same approach during university when Rebecca, and later, my first boyfriend, wanted to learn. Rebecca bought herself a slate and stylus and wrote encouraging letters to me during tough times, and Brailled notes became a sweet part of my romantic relationship as well. And now, the first note from my husband, adorably filled with mistakes, is pinned up on the fridge like a trophy.
I am not a certified Braille teacher, but hopefully, my twenty years of reading and writing Braille on a daily basis gives me a bit of credibility or at the very least, points you in the right direction.
It’s important to understand the purpose of Braille before beginning to learn it, as well as your individual reasons for learning. It’s what I call your “why.” Maybe it’s to communicate with a friend who is a Braille user–like my friends over the years–or to prepare yourself for possible sight loss later in life, or even just as a fun mental discipline.
Braille is a tactile system of reading and writing for those with visual impairments. Created in the nineteenth-century by a blind fifteen-year-old, Louis Braille, it’s now acclaimed and used worldwide. The Braille cell consists of six dots in a 2×3 configuration and houses over 200 contractions. To learn more, check out this post on the uses of Braille, its construction, and its founder, Louis Braille.
My Braille Toolkit
I am an amateur teacher and nothing compares to the work, dedication and resources of a TVI [like my TVI, Beth. Read my interview with Beth about her career as a TVI here] But I do have a handful of tools that I like to keep with me for instilling a love and an intimate understanding of the Braille code in my learners.
A Braille Dictionary
This is where I have to insert my caveat. Love or hate me for this, but I am not a user of UEB Braille. I tolerate it as most books and embossed materials now utilize this system, but I do not use it in my personal life nor do I teach it [if only because I’m teaching to friends and not on a professional basis].
I base my Braille dictionary on the one my TVI gave me at the beginning of my learning journey [and I still keep on my bookshelf today]. Here’s what it includes:
- Single letter contractions: Contractions that begin with each letter of the alphabet i.e. AB = about
- Initial letter contractions: contractions that begin with dots 5, 4-5, 4-5-6 which are used at the beginning of a word or as whole words i.e. dot 5m = mother
- Final letter contractions: contractions that begin with dots 4-6, 5-6, 6 which are used in the middle or end of a word i.e. dots 4-6 = ound
- Punctuation and special symbols: Hyphens, commas, exclamation marks, oh my!
It’s helpful to have an easy-to-access handbook for any Braille enquiries, particularly in hard-copy Braille so one is able to have visual and tactile assistance.
Apps and Websites
There is an entire world of information available at our fingertips via the Internet, so why not put it to good use? Although I have never used these apps myself, my husband and friends have, and speak highly of the ease of practicing Braille on their mobile phones. Here are a few recommendations:
Please note: Not all apps are available on both Android and iPhone, so I have listed the store where you can find each.
Available on the App Store:
Available on the Google Play Store:
Toys & Games
If I were a professional teacher and had more resources at my disposal, my toolkit would be much more robust and include more detailed equipment. But, seeing as I am just me and teach for the pure pleasure, I like to rely on the simple things, which is often things that I can make at home.
- Word searches: super simple to create, word searches help to identify specific letters and begin putting them together as words. You can increase the challenge as your learner becomes more advanced.
- Short stories: Stories are a great way to practice reading Braille in a fun, interactive way. As the learner progresses, feel free to use longer stories and add in more and complex contractions.
- Writing Practice: Have your Braille learner practice their reading, writing and typing skills in the everyday. Braille a to-do list, write a story, create a Braille sign for an area that doesn’t have one in the community. Putting their Braille knowledge into practical application is key!
What you get out of learning Braille depends on what you put into it. Becoming fluent in all the codes and intricacies is much different than having a conversational understanding enough to read elevator buttons and washroom signs. Whichever route you take, there are three things to remember:
Make it fun
Keep it simple
Remember your why