How the braille alphabet works

A beginner's guide to braille, and learning the braille alphabet.

The braille alphabet

The braille alphabet is used by people who are blind or visually impaired as a basis of the larger braille code for reading and writing. Blind kids and adults read braille by gliding their fingertips over the lines of embossed braille dots and write braille using a variety of tools including the Perkins Brailler. People who are sighted can learn braille as well, either by touch or using their vision. A great place for everyone to begin learning braille is with the braille alphabet.

Get started learning braille

The first thing to know is that braille is a code and not a language itself. There are different “grades” and versions of braille. The most basic is “grade one braille” in which every letter is transcribed. For every letter in the English alphabet, there is a braille character. And each braille letter is made of a combination of raised dots in the braille cell. The braille cell is the basic component of braille so let’s start here.

The braille cell made up of two columns of 3 dots each, making a total of six dots

The braille cell

The braille cell is comprised of six dots arranged in two columns and three rows. Each dot has a number 1-6. Beginning in the top left corner of the cell is dot 1. Moving down the column to the middle row is dot 2 and in the bottom left corner is dot 3. In the top right corner is dot 4 while the middle dot in the right column is dot 5. The bottom right corner is dot 6. 

Braille letters a – j

The braille alphabet uses a pattern throughout the alphabet. The easiest letter to learn is “a” which is dot 1. Next, the letter “b” is dot 1 and dot 2, and “c” is dot 1 and dot 4. To make it simpler, we’ve included the dot configurations in the image and table below.

Braille letters a through j
LetterDot configuration
b1, 2
c1, 4
d1, 4, 5
e1, 5
f1, 2, 4
g1, 2, 4, 5
h1, 2, 5
i2, 4
j2, 4, 5

Braille letters k – t

The second set of letters follow the pattern of adding a dot 3 to each character in the first set of braille letters.

braille letters k through t
LetterDot configuration
k1, 3
l1, 2, 3
m1, 3, 4
n1, 3, 4, 5
o1, 3, 5
p1, 2, 3, 4
q1, 2, 3, 4, 5
r1, 2, 3, 5
s2, 3, 4
t2, 3, 4, 5

Braille letters u – z

The last set of letters continues the pattern by adding a dot 6 to the second set of letters. However, there is one exception that interrupts the pattern here. At the time Louis Braille invented the first version of the braille alphabet, the French language did not use the letter “w” so it is skipped. The braille letter “w” is instead created by dots 2, 4, 5, 6.

Braille letters u through z
LetterDot configuration
u1, 3, 6
v1, 2, 3, 6
x1, 3, 4, 6
y1, 3, 4, 5, 6
z1, 3, 5, 6
w2, 4, 5, 6

Capital letters

These are all of the lower case braille letters in the English alphabet. To form a capital letter, you must place a dot 6 before the letter. There are also braille characters for other punctuation and symbols. There’s so much to learn about braille!

Other ways we use braille

Now, you’re probably wondering about braille numbers, braille music and even other languages in braille. Braille numbers are similar to letters but have a special number sign character in front to tell readers that the characters that follow are intended to be numbers. There are also special codes for math, braille music notation, and many languages even have their own braille code.

Test your knowledge

But first, study the braille letters you’ve learned here and then test your knowledge with our braille alphabet fun quiz! How many braille letters do you know? Challenge your friends to our braille alphabet quiz, too, by sharing this article with them!

A brief history of braille

Louis Braille invented the braille system in 1824 at the age of fifteen and continued to improve upon it throughout his lifetime. We still continue to make updates to braille today. In 2016, the United States switched to the Unified English Braille (UEB) code from the American version of braille. Every year on January 4th, Louis Braille’s birthday, we celebrate World Braille Day to raise awareness of the importance of braille literacy and inclusion.

Advocating for braille

Just imagine if everyone learned about braille and used it wherever there is print! There’d be more access to the world for the people who read braille and more opportunities for others to learn. Books, museums, stores, offices… braille is yet to be included everywhere we need it. Together, we can make the world more inclusive for braille readers. Where can you advocate for braille inclusion?

You can help by raising awareness of braille today by sharing this article with your friends, family, and coworkers.