Tips and Techniques to Enhance Your Braille Reading Experience

Many touch readers dream of a day when our fingers can smoothly glide across pages of braille freeing our minds to connect with content and absorb words flowing under our hands. But for some of us, developing those tactile skills and confidence needed for a comfortable reading speed is not straight forward. In the worst cases, we lose confidence and give up on touch reading entirely. It does not have to be this way.


I have been reading braille for over 40 years. I have also listened to many braille readers talking about improving reading technique, including braille experts from many braille authorities from across Europe and around the world. Here I aim to distil that experience in to a list of tips and techniques that when applied I hope will enhance your own reading experience.


Let us first deal with the elephant in the room. You do not have to be very young nor super intelligent to read by touch. Braille must not be thought of as a last resort only to be used when other reading methods did not work. Braille is simply reading designed for your fingers like print is designed for eyes. Braille can complement other reading formats. Combining braille with audio and/or large print can be powerful for supporting understanding. You do not have to accept other people’s low expectations about when is a good time to brush up on touch reading skills. It is never too late.


As with reading print, braille is easier when you make it fun and do it with other people. Find a community of peers to help celebrate your successes and support you through the challenges. Face to face braille reading groups can be found in some areas and some groups meet online.


Practicing your braille writing can support braille reading. Writing braille forces you to think about how braille is formed while giving your fingers an alternative from the business of reading. For example, start writing a braille diary, label items around the home and use braille in greetings cards. You can also create flashcards of words that include braille signs you currently find difficult.


Revisiting pre-braille skills really helps. Tracking, discriminating and fine motor skills are essential. Playing a musical instrument, cooking and crafts all develop dexterity. Even folding clothes, playing with Lego, dealing cards or sorting coins also reenforce tactile skills.


Preparing your hands for reading. Braille is much easier to feel when your hands are warm and dry. So be sure to wash your fingers in warm water and dry them before sitting down to read.


Make sure your reading material is stationary. You will find braille is much easier if your book or display is on a solid flat surface in front of you and not wobbling around.


When possible, try to adopt a relaxed posture with your back and wrists well supported and your elbows at right angles. Reading braille usually means your hands are almost flat with fingers straight out in front of you improving contact with braille  characters.


Touch with the most sensitive part of your finger. Usually the area around your finger print is used for reading braille. That is the flat area opposite your fingernail, not the very end of your fingertip. Typically faster readers have a very gentle touch and read with both hands. Avoid pressing down on dots. Experiment to discover which of your fingers are most sensitive for perceiving braille and discuss multi-finger techniques with other readers.


Read both hardcopy and digital braille. Nothing improves braille reading more than having a big old braille book or magazine to reenforce spatial awareness skills. Hardcopy gives you the chance to practice hand scanning, feeling the shape of titles and paragraphs and finding your place.


Vary the content. Sometimes pushing yourself away from the familiar can force development of more robust reading skills. Branch out to include content with less familiar vocabulary. For example, poetry. Do not frustrate yourself though. You want most of your reading to be enjoyable, especially if you are reading alone, and perhaps throw in something moderately challenging now and then.


Take your time when selecting a braille display. Explore opportunities to get hands on with as many different display models as possible. Braille lines with fewer than 20 characters may be more portable and increase the number of opportunities you have to read. But shorter displays can reduce reading speed and fluency because of how often you must press panning keys. 32 or 40 cells can offer a practical trade off between portability and panning efficiency.


Consider if you need to reassign the function of panning keys on your braille display. If your right hand is your dominant braille reading hand then pressing a panning key at the left end of your display may be more efficient. Most screen readers will let you reassign braille buttons within braille settings.


Reduce distractions to help you focus, especially if you read from a smartphone or tablet. Suppressing notifications, locking screen orientation and select a reading app known to work well with reading braille.


Monitoring progress. You can set a one minute timer and read at a comfortable rate. When the minute has elapsed, count the number of words and make a note of the value. You can track this over time repeating the experiment every week or so to see if you’re making progress.


While increasing speed can make braille more enjoyable and useful, reading is not all about speed. Understanding is much more important. Some fast readers struggle to tell you what they just read. So as with all things find a balance that is right for you.


I hope you found this useful and that you will share your own tips with the community.


Happy reading.