Many visually impaired people can't see words written on a page. Instead, they use a tactile writing system called braille to read. Individuals with visual impairments use their fingers to feel what is written instead of reading with their eyes. In order to print books, letters, and other documents in braille, though, you will need a braille printer.
What Is Braille?
In braille, each letter is represented by a different pattern of up to six raised dots. Languages that do not use the Roman alphabet have their own braille system for reading and writing. Braille was first invented in 1809 by Louis Braille when he was just 15 years old. Braille, himself blind, attended The National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris, France. At that time, books for the blind were written using raised letters, but the reading process could be difficult. Due to a challenging production process, few books were printed for the blind.
Louis wanted to read more, so he created braille based on a tactile writing code that the military developed to read without any light. This military code was based on the sounds of letters, not the letters themselves. Louis Braille adapted his language to work better for everyday writing, incorporating grammar and spelling. In braille, there are 64 possible dot combinations, which creates enough characters for letters, numbers, and punctuation.
What Is a Braille Printer? What Is a Braille Printer Used For?
A braille printer, also called a braille embosser, is a device used to print in braille. Similar to laser, inkjet, and other types of printers, there are braille embossers for use at home, in offices, and at organizations that mass-produce written media in braille.
How Does a Braille Printer Work?
This device works by connecting to your computer and receiving data that tells it what to print. Inside the printer are a series of embossing pins that create the indentations in the paper. Braille printers use special paper that is heavier than standard printer paper. They are also louder and slower than printers used to print visual media. Printed braille takes up more space on the page than written letters, so printers may require more paper for the same document.
Braille printers are different from braillers. Braillers are like braille typewriters. They have six keys for each of the six dots used in braille and a few other keys for things like line spacing. Some braillers have a special bell that lets blind people know when they are only a few spaces ahead of the end of a line. Some braillers are purely mechanical and don't require electricity to work. Others can be plugged into the wall.
How to Print Braille at Home
Before printing in braille at home, you should consider what accessories you will need to go along with your braille printer.
Braille paper. Braille paper is typically available in two sizes:
- 8.5" x 11"
- 11.5" x 11"
These pages also come either with perforated edges or plain edges. Some braille printers require perforated edges to feed the paper through the printer, so check the instructions for your braille printer before selecting your paper.
Braille translation software. This type of software translates text files like word documents and other file types into braille. Some of these software options also do the reverse and convert braille into text. Other digital braille translation tools allow you to turn a QWERTY keyboard into a brailler to allow you to create your own braille files on your computer.
Once you have the accessories you need, you should follow the instructions that came with your braille printer to print in braille at home. Many braille printers come with instructions written in both print and braille.
How Much Does a Braille Printer Cost?
The cost of a braille printer depends on how much it is designed to print. High-volume braille printers can cost as much as $80,000. Lower-volume braille printers may cost $1,800. Even electronic braille label makers cost around $1,000.
Braillers typically cost between $800 and $1,000.
Some braille translation software is free, but other products cost up to $1,650.
If a braille printer is outside of your current price range, you may still be able to get one by:
- Starting a crowdfunding campaign
- Asking your child's school if they have any programs that can help
- Organizing a bake sale or donation drive
- Asking a religious organization or other organizations you are a part of to help you raise money
- Check with local civic groups such as The Lion's Club or the Knights of Columbus to help raise some money
Alternatives to Braille Printers
In addition to braille printing devices, many services can transcribe important things like textbooks, legal documents, technical documents, and more into braille and print them for visually impaired people upon request. No job is too small. Many braille printing services also transcribe things like utility bills, school papers, and other everyday written documents. Some braille printing services even offer the option to create an audio recording of the document instead of a braille printout.
Alternatively, a pen or pencil version of braille can be written by hand with a slate and a stylus. The braille paper is inserted into the slate, which has premade holes positioned to make the braille dots. Then, the writer uses the stylus to produce braille dots on the page. This method of writing in braille is popular for taking notes during a class/meeting or even just writing down a new friend's phone number.