University of Edinburgh

"Braille is not a language, it is another way to read and write a language."

Presented on Thursday 23 November 2006

Braille is not a Language

Janis Sugden

Where have all the children gone?

Survey: 19,000 children with VI
5% Braillists

Where are they ?

Note: 19,000 VI children in GB; 5% braillists; 34.5% have additional special needs.
A growing number are educated within mainstream schools. Presumption of mainstreaming only in exceptional cases (parental choice) would children go elsewhere. In each year group there are likely to be about 70 children who use Braille as their means of written education. This figure has remained fairly stable. This survey was carried out in 1997 another was carried out in 2002.

Teaching Braille to Children: Why?

  • All children must be given access to a media that is their preference.
  • Braille is a code that presents written information.

See page 13 Teaching Braille to children. In the UK anecdotal reports have been received regarding children with very severe VI being taught to read print sizes of over 48pt when Braille would have been more appropriate reading medium. The alphabet numbers and any other symbol that appears in print can be replicated in Braille by arranging combinations of six dots in a Braille cell.


Braille is challenging: Time / Support

Note: Learning to read and write is challenging for most children . . . so is learning Braille.
It takes time and practice.
All children need the support and encouragement of family and teachers.

Is Braille really necessary?
What about technology?

When children learn to read they also develop skills in pelling, grammar and punctuation.

Audio tapes and computers that 'speak' provide access to all kinds of written information but fail to give new readers the tools that they need to read and write for themselves.

Who teaches Braille: RNIB Survey in 2002.

  • Who teaches Braille?
  • Who teaches the teachers?

Reports received by RNIB of a reduction in the standards of Braille literacy among pupils who read Braille.
A questionnaire sent out to VI advisory services across GB. Found 850 Braillists (around 4% of VI population between 5-16. A smaller proportion 2% of VI children under 5 were working on Pre-Braille skills).

The majority of the Braillists (71%) were being educated in mainstream or resourced mainstream schools. (This figure was higher in primary than in secondary.)

Who teaches Braille?

Professional most likely to be reponsible both for planning and supervising Braille lessons and for direct teaching was the Peri. BUT lots of evidence that teaching assistants or SA’s also play a central role in teaching braille literacy.


A need for a wide range of training opportunities for those who support braillists.

Wide agreement that the courses leading to qualification as a QTVI should contain an element in teaching braille literacy. This is especially important for secondary trained teachers who, in their role as QTVI are likely to be responsible for primary age pupils as their initial teacher training would not have covered principles of teaching literacy.

Due in part to the low incidence of pupils who use Braille for reading and writing many QTVI’s may not have worked with a Braillist for some time.
This highlights the need for refresher training to be made available in :-teaching braille literacy, teaching braille mathematics, specialist Braille codes ICT for Braillists and the presentation and layout of Braille documents.

RNIB Survey: What did it find?

A number of concerns:-

Relating to the teaching of Braille and the provision of Materials.

Teachers raised concerns regarding maintaining the high professional standards in the provision of support.


Good Practice

  • There is no one correct model.
  • Case studies show that Braillists can be successfully supported in different contexts.
  • Braille = Choice
  • Identification of Good Practice.

Provided there is appropriate organisation of specialist staff, adequate training for staff and properly targeted funding.


Identified a clear need to teach Braille at a young age. It is better to teach Braille to a person with low vision who may never need to rely solely on Braille, than not to teach Braille to soeone who might need to use it in a few years time.

Good Practice: Lorna and Christine will now demonstrate how they very successfully have worked with children who are Braille users. Lorna has many years of experience in working with young children in developing their pre-Braille skills and Christine who has worked with Braillists in a mainstream setting.


Keil, S (2004) Teaching Braille to children The British Journal of Visual Impairment: Vol. 22 Number 1, p 13 -16. copies of the full report are available on the RNIB’s web page.

Johnston, D (2004) ‘I have mastered the Braille Code but no one has taught me how to teach it’ The British Journal of Visual impairment Vol.22 Number 1 P 17-24.

Clunies-Ross, L (1997) Where have all the children Gone? The British Journal of Visual impairment Vol. 15 Number 2 P 48-53.