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Materials for Students


Background Information

What is the American Printing House for the Blind?

The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) is a nonprofit company founded in 1858 to print books and create other products for people who are blind or visually impaired. Since 1879, when the United States Congress passed the Act to Promote Education of the Blind, APH has been the official printer of educational materials for legally blind students in the United States who are below college level. Over the years, APH has grown and has expanded its products and services. The company’s mission remains the same– to provide products and services that help people who are blind or visually impaired live independently.

Today, the American Printing House for the Blind prints books and magazines in braille and also produces them in large type. The company records books and magazines on audio cassette tape (better known as "talking books") and provides educational software for computer use. APH also develops tools and aids to help people who are blind or visually impaired in their daily activities.

The Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind

The Museum is located on the second floor of the American Printing House for the Blind. The museum collects books and other artifacts (objects of historic interest) that were produced for and used by people who were blind or visually impaired. Many of the artifacts date back to the 1800s! The museum also has on display some of the equipment and tools used in the past by the American Printing House for the Blind. Through its collection, the museum helps to record and preserve history and to make history available to you.

Tour Tips

There’s a lot to see, touch, and do during your visit to APH. We’re glad you are coming. To make sure you have a great visit, we ask that you keep a few simple guidelines in mind:

The Basics of Braille

Braille is a touch (tactile) system of reading and writing. Six raised dots are combined in different ways to represent letters, numbers, punctuation, and symbols. Who developed this system? Louis Braille.

He was born in France in 1809 and became blind when he was a young boy, after an accident in his father’s harness shop. At that time, there was no practical system for both reading and writing for people who were blind. The idea of a system of raised dots was kindled when Braille learned about a raised dot code in use by the French military. The code, known as "night writing," was invented by Charles Barbier. The military used it to write messages that could be read by touch in the dark. Louis Braille developed the code into a useful system of touch reading and writing. His system is called Braille.

Image of a braille cell

The Braille Cell

Braille dots are arranged in cells. A cell is the space that can hold up to six dots. Each cell can be up to three dots high and up to two dots wide. Below is a cell with six dots. Each dot within a cell has a position number.

The Alphabet in Braille

The braille alphabet
(Shading indicates a raised dot.)

Practice Exercises:

Refer to the braille alphabet chart above to complete the following practice exercises. Your dots won’t be raised, but the exercies will help you learn the basics of braille.

1. Write the word "book" in braille. Shade the correct dots, one letter to each cell.

Image of four empty braille cells

2. Write your first name in braille by shading in the appropriate dots.

Image of empty braille cells

3. Write a message in braille by shading in the appropriate dots and have someone else read it.

Image of empty braille cells

Grade 1 (Uncontracted) and Grade 2 (Contracted) Braille:

There are two grades of braille–grade 1 (uncontracted braille) and grade 2 (contracted braille). You have just completed some practice exercises in grade 1 braille.

In grade 1 braille, the dots in each cell represent a single letter. When you wrote the word "book," you filled in dots in four cells (one cell per letter).

Grade 2 braille is a shortened or contracted form of braille–the dots in each cell can represent contractions, short forms of words, and even whole words. For example, the word "go" in grade 2 braille is written the same way as the letter "g" in grade 1 braille:

Grade 1 'g', grade 2 'go'

The contracted form, grade 2 braille, takes up less space and is faster to read and write. Most braille books and materials are printed in grade 2 braille. "You can go" is written like this in grade 1 braille:

You can go, grade 1 braille

In grade 2 braille, "you can go" is written this way:

You can go, grade 2 braille

Knowledge Quest

During your visit, be on the look out for answers to the following questions:

  1. Before Louis Braille developed his dot system, books were embossed with raised letters of the alphabet. How did Braille’s system improve tactile reading and writing?
  2. Why do the pages of braille books and magazines need to be loosely bound?
  3. What new inventions or technologies for using information have been developed since the time of Louis Braille and are especially useful today for people who are blind or visually impaired?

Museum Activities

Meeting Someone Who Is Blind

The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) publishes a fact sheet titled "Sensitivity to Blindness or Visual Impairments." You can find the fact sheet on their website,

Facts About Dog Guides

Reprinted from: In Touch published by the American Printing House for the Blind, Louisville, KY.

There are several dog guide training programs in the United States. A list of programs is provided at various websites on the Internet. For an overview, visit the Fred’s Head Database.

Vocabulary List


Having no useful vision.


A system of raised dots that can be read by touch and can be written in different combinations to represent letters, symbols, punctuation, and numbers.

braille writer:

A writing device that looks similar to a typewriter but embosses paper with raised dots.


The space in which braille dots are arranged; each cell can be up to three dots high and two dots wide.


To print a raised dot, letter, or line onto paper that can then be read by touch, using your fingertips.

legally blind:

Having measurable vision of 20/200 or less in the better eye with correction, or having a field of vision no greater
than 20 degrees with correction. A person who is legally blind needs to be within 20 feet of an object that can be seen at 200 feet by someone with unimpaired vision.*


A tool used for writing braille. Paper is clamped into the slate and dots are embossed on the paper by pushing a stylus (pointed handheld device) into the open rectangles (cells) of the slate.


A sharp pointed handheld tool used with a slate to emboss paper with braille dots.


Describes something which can be understood or read by touch. For example, some maps and books are tactile. They have raised lines and raised dots, instead of printed letters, and are read by touch.

visually impaired:

Having very limited vision, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses.* Special aids such as large-type textbooks and magnifying devices, are necessary for reading, writing, and other activities.

*Source: What Museum Guides Need to Know (American Foundation for the Blind, 1989.)