An Introduction to Computer Braille

A blind woman uses a computer with a Braille display and a computer keyboard. Inclusive device

Don’t want to read?

Written By Cody Laplante

Cody M. Laplante is a certified Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments located in the capital region of the United States. With a Master’s Degree and Graduate Certificate in Assistive Technology, Cody founded eye.t to provide live and asynchronous training options to children, adults, professionals and parents to ensure that all people with visual impairments can have access to a computer.

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Published on

October 3, 2023

So you have a brand new braille display, you are using it with JAWS or NVDA and you come to a password field. JAWS says “computer braille is required”…

Oh man. What do you do now? You may have heard of computer braille but does that mean you are ready to type out your entire password using this semi-obscure braille code?

Well, today, I’m going to teach you the basics of computer braille (at least enough that you’d be able to type that password). 

Here is what we will be covering today:

  1. What is computer braille and why do we need it?
  2. The 2 New Dots
  3. How to Write Capital Letters
  4. How to Write Numbers
  5. The 15 most basic symbols

What is Computer Braille

Computer Braille is exactly what it sounds like. It is braille for the computer. Now what we will be talking about today is “8-dot computer braille”. 

Side Note

It is easy to confuse the “8-dot Computer Braille” that we are talking about today with “Computer Braille Code” which is used to represent technical language in textbooks. This braille code was discontinued by the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) in 2016 and is a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT code than what we are talking about today. For more information on the history of computer braille and the differences between all of these different codes, take a look at Braille Codes and Characters: History and Current Use – Part 1 an Access World article published by the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB).

For the purposes of this article, “computer braille” will reference 8-dot computer braille not Computer Braille Code (CBC).

A One-to-One Correspondence

So anyway, 8-dot Computer Braille is a code that allows a 1 to 1 correspondence between a braille symbol and a computer symbol.

Wait a minute… a one-to-one correspondence? What does that mean?

A one-to-one correspondence means that for every single computer (ASCII) symbol there is only 1 braille symbol. This is of course, much different than Unified English Braille (UEB) in which there are times when one print symbol may need 2 braille symbols or 1 braille symbol could represent an entire print word. In 8 dot computer braille, every single symbol is represented by only 1 braille cell. 

Why is this helpful?

This is helpful because in the case of a string of text that has a variety of symbols AND in which every one of those symbols needs to be EXACTLY CORRECT like in a password, it is helpful to be able to see every single character on a braille display without having to worry about contractions or braille rules.

When would I use Computer Braille?

Most email address and password fields will require computer braille. This means if you have a braille display with a perkins keyboard, like the Brailliant Series of the Focus Series, you’ll need to be comfortable with typing in computer braille.

In addition if you are doing any type of software engineering that involves coding, switching your computer to 8-dot computer braille will probably be helpful.

How to Read and Write in Computer Braille

Now, let’s learn HOW to read and write in 8-dot computer braille. First we will learn about the two extra dots when moving from 6-dot UEB to 8-dot computer brialle, then we’ll teach you how to use captial letters, how to write numbers and finally, we’ll give you the most common computer braille symbols.

Two New Dots

If you know anything about braille, you’ll know that our traditional braille codes like UEB or Nemeth code use 6 dots per braille cell. 

Well, as you can guess, 8-dot computer braille doesn’t use 6 dots. It uses 8 dots per braille cell. So where are these “extra”dots? 

So in an 8-dot braille configuration, dots 1 through 6 are in the same variation that they are normally in. Dots 1-3 in a column on the left, and dots 4-6 in a column on the right. 

Now we need to add two more dots, dot 7 and dot 8.

Dot 7 is below dot 3 and dot 8 is below dot 6. These two dots togther are right next to each other, and on a refrehable braille display, they are usually used to show the blinking cursor below our 6-dot braille. 

On a braille keyboard, when typing in computer braille, your backspace key usuually becomes dot 7 and your enter key usually becomes dot 8. 

By adding those two dots, we have now doubled the number of combinations that can be made, allowing us the ability asign every single computer character with only one braille cell. Pretty cool huh?

Now, let’s learn some patterns.

How to Captialize

Remember, in 8-dot computer braille, every symbol is differnet. That means:

  1. there is no captial indicator and 
  2. a lowercase “h” is a different symbol than an uppcase “h”.

Now, this sounds complicated but it is a surprisingly simple pattern.

In 8-dot computer braille, you can make any letter a captial letter by adding dot 7 to our regular ol’ UEB letter.

For example, in a lowercase letter “a” is the same as our UEB letter “a”; dot 1. Well to make that “a” a captial “A”, add dot 7, so the whole symbol would be dots 1 and 7. This works for all of our letters. Let’s do one more

A lowercase “i” is just like UEB; dots 2, 4. A captial “I” is the same but we add dot 7, so: Dots 2, 4, 7.

How to Write Numbers

Numbers in computer braille are a bit different. Just like our capital letters, we need to remove the number sign to maintain our “one-to-one correspondence” between print and braille. So, without a number sign, how do we write numbers?

Well, all numbers in computer braille are “dropped”. Similar to the Nemeth braille code (for Math and Science), numbers are written in the lower section of the cell, utilizing dots 2, 3, 5 and 6. “Lowering” a number from UEB involved moving all dots of that number down 1 dot to that lower section of the cell. 

We have listed all numbers 0-9 below.

  • “0” Dots 3, 5, 6
  • “1” Dot 2
  • “2” Dots 2, 3
  • “3” Dots 2, 5
  • “4” Dots 2, 5, 6
  • “5” Dots 2, 6
  • “6” Dots 2, 3, 5
  • “7” Dots 2, 3, 5, 6
  • “8” Dots 2, 3, 6
  • “9” Dots 3, 5

Watch the Tech Tip Tuesday!

Now that you’ve read through this blog post all about computer braille, watch our Tech Tip Tuesday on the same topic by clicking the link below!

Tech Tip Tuesday – Computer Braille

take a look at some

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