Braille for everyone
April 3, 2018 8:42 AM   Subscribe

Braille Neue is a combination of OCR-styled Latin characters and Braille dots, readable by the blind and sighted equally well. It's not the first of its kind, and the site cites a few earlier examples, but it's a new (and to my eyes more attractive) design. The author hopes to see it used at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
posted by wanderingmind (32 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
This is neat! Most of the characters are readable and fit the Braille dots well. I, T, and V are unfortunate though. It might be better to break the rule that all the dots are connected in these cases.
posted by poke it with a stick at 8:54 AM on April 3, 2018

I like the concept, but it also raises questions I realize that I don't know answers to.
Is it important that the dots be so visually contrasting? I'd find a bit less contrast fair visually easier to parse.
Does Braille have a "scale"? I had always assumed that it did, but there are examples here where the text is quite large and I wonder how that works. I'd always thought that it was sized so that a character could fit under a fingertip, but maybe that is just ignorance on my part.
posted by meinvt at 8:56 AM on April 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

A lot of the copy on the main page talks about how ordinarily braille in public spaces is small and invisible, so the high-contrast is likely intentional. I also like the idea of it being part of the landscape including it in all signage such that it can be expected to be there in a way that could potentially make it a useful tool and not a perfunctory addition.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:02 AM on April 3, 2018

a combination of OCR-styled Latin characters and Braille dots

It looks like there will be a Japanese version as well, which makes sense since the developer is Japanese. Presumably it will just cover 50 kana characters rather than 2,000 kanji - that would be a lot of work!
posted by Umami Dearest at 9:06 AM on April 3, 2018

The S is kind of annoying me. There's no reason not to make it vertically symmetrical, and instead they've made it something that will read as a 5 for someone without context, while the 5 will read as an S. You can't use the S as the 5 due to the position of the dots, but you could give the lower part of the lower curve of the 5 the indent, while giving an indent top and bottom to the S.

So nice concept, but needs more work.
posted by tavella at 9:12 AM on April 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

...strangely, we don’t typically see braille included in our own alphabet, yet so many people rely on this kinetic language to navigate the world.

What's notably absent - and strange - is that he's not even talking about contracted (grade 2) Braille.

Through the research, I found out that as long as there is 6 dotted pattern, it is possible for them to read it regardless of its size.

He doesn't go into what his "research" is...but where regulations exist, there are actual standards for Braille signage, the Standards for Accessible Design under the ADA being a case in point:

703.3 Braille. Braille shall be contracted (Grade 2) and shall comply with 703.3 and 703.4.

703.3.1 Dimensions and Capitalization. Braille dots shall have a domed or rounded shape and shall comply with Table 703.3.1. The indication of an uppercase letter or letters shall only be used before the first word of sentences, proper nouns and names, individual letters of the alphabet, initials, and acronyms.

Currently, we rarely see braille implemented in the public space since it takes additional space andsighted people consider it not important.

Accessibility legislation in various jurisdictions addresses this - as for how well it's enforced and implemented, that's another matter. And many jurisdictions in the world have none or little of said regulation - Japan being one of those jurisdictions.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:13 AM on April 3, 2018 [4 favorites]

Some of the solutions I do like -- the inward pointing Q tail is nice. But while making the V outwardly a box while using the inside to show the slant is good, I suspect it would read more clearly as a V if both sides had it. Possibly that gave too much weight to the bottom.

In general they seem to have held too much to the box constraint even when the dots gave them the freedom to avoid it. The B escapes it, and I would have used that philosophy much more, perhaps to the G, the J, the Y.
posted by tavella at 9:17 AM on April 3, 2018

I can't criticize this, especially as a typeface whose design actually does something. For that reason, and for the "something" that it does do, it should be used everywhere.
posted by rhizome at 9:25 AM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

I was also about to complain that the Z looks more like a 2 but then I thought 'wait why can't abled people adapt for once?'.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:29 AM on April 3, 2018 [7 favorites]

Compromises are hard. This might work well for people with very good and very bad sight, but be much harder for those with some (but compromised) vision.
posted by rikschell at 9:42 AM on April 3, 2018

This is utterly unreadable, and would still be utterly unreadable even if you didn't make the dots be in distracting contrast-colors. Just print the stupid signs in Futura and emboss regular Braille into the surface, if you insist that they be on the same lines.
posted by fifthrider at 9:45 AM on April 3, 2018 [7 favorites]

I get that this is well intended, but it's one of those clear-cut cases of someone making a whole bunch of (apparently uninformed) assumptions about how signage and accessibility actually work and the fact that there's a standards-based approach to doing it right.

Legibility for people with low vision is another component of accessible signage, and one that doesn't seem to be taken into account here. And it's a complex area that needs a lot more thought put into it than this Instagram-friendly design idea seems to have:

Because the laws and standards they support have such broad reach, decisions on the content of these standards have enormous impact not only on those with disabilities but also on the architectural, manufacturing, building, and graphic-design communities, who must comply with the laws (Calori & Vanden-Eynden, 2015). The standards are living documents. They are revised, elaborated, and refined every few years in response to changes in technology, demographics, and legal challenge. Authored by committees of stakeholders (government agencies, manufacturers, building-code authors and enforcers, trade representatives, and advocacy groups for people with disabilities), the standards have an impact on nearly every building that accommodates the public.

The goal of accessible signage in general is to remove barriers for all of those with vision loss, including those who are blind and those with impaired but functional vision. This article focuses on provisions in the standards that attempt to ensure access for people who have enough residual vision to navigate visually through the environment and to read text but who may not have sufficient visual acuity to access signs that are designed for people with typical vision. I restrict my focus to low vision because removing barriers to readability for that population generally entails specification of the visual properties of signs, whereas doing so for people who are blind requires the very different presentation of sign content through nonvisual (e.g., tactile or auditory) sensory channels.

posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:51 AM on April 3, 2018 [13 favorites]

Is this a midterm project or thesis? Seems about that time of year.
posted by rhizome at 10:10 AM on April 3, 2018 [4 favorites]

I was also about to complain that the Z looks more like a 2 but then I thought 'wait why can't abled people adapt for once?'.

That's fine if the point is virtue signalling. If the point is to make a font that works well for all, within the design constraints, and that people will want to use, then no that's pretty bad. And of course, there are handicaps other than blindness; the S and the Z are perfect mirror images of each other, which is bad for dyslexics.

I'm not even sure this would be great for braille readers. I'm not one, but my understanding is that the characters should be readable in whole by a fingertip; certainly the braille signage on ATMs and the like is fairly small. So if used in typical sizes for event signage, I suspect this would be far too large. And it looks like a very bad font for smaller informative paragraph info -- the lack of lowercase for one.
posted by tavella at 10:11 AM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Okay, as a totally blind person myself, a lot of these ideas read as kind of half-baked at best. I don't understand how I can be expected to read something which takes as its cue the shape of printed numbers and letters, when I at best have a hazy understanding of what they look like. Give me ordinary Grade II braille any day.
posted by Alensin at 10:15 AM on April 3, 2018 [20 favorites]

On the size - as mandolin conspiracy notes, there are regulations for it, for good reason.

From the folks I've talked to at work who are braille readers, they can puzzle out non-standard sizes, but it takes them a lot more time and is pretty annoying - after all, they've trained themselves to the standard cell size. The standard cell size also has some built in understanding of about how long a row of text is.

And yes, the contracted braille aspect is huge, and often not intuitive, but it can save a significant number of cells and otherwise reduce confusion and effort.

For people who want a lot more detail, there's a site from Australia,, that has exercises for sighted people to learn braille (starting with uncontracted and working up to contracted) with lots of great resource links.

Up until 2017, English-speaking countries were using slightly different braille versions, but new materials are now using the same one (UEB or Universal English Braille) though there's still some variation in math and music transcription. (And of course, there's still a lot of material out there in previous versions.)
posted by modernhypatia at 10:17 AM on April 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

So from the comments here I gather that this isn't a great solution for folks without any visual impairment, it's an awful solution for folks with some visual impairment, and its no improvement at all for blind folks.

Yeah, I think the 'midterms are here' comment nailed it. Hope this dies a quiet death. I also hope the designer gets a good grade (well, and A- would be fine).
posted by el io at 11:47 AM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Would it be worth having a Metatalk FPP on things commentators here could do to make their writing better for blind and partially sighted readers? Like, I know some people have difficulty with reading small fonts visually, but I don't know what might be bad for people using text-to-speech or a braille display.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:00 PM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

> I don't understand how I can be expected to read something which takes as its cue the shape of printed numbers and letters

Well, that's the thing: to a blind person, this would be totally indistinguishable from ordinary Braille. It's just plain Braille with printed characters overlaid on top of it. Sighted people will perceive these overlaid letters, but blind people won't. In theory, it's thus equally readable to both blind people and sighted people. The innovation here is that the shapes of the printed letterforms are made to align with the patterns of the Braille dots.

I concur that there are some problems with the execution, though. And I don't see what's wrong with fifthrider's suggestion to just print the text in a normal typeface and emboss Braille into it. But I don't think just any typeface would work -- I'm not sure if Futura would or not. The character widths need to be right, for instance. But this particular typeface is pretty exotic in appearance. I wonder whether something more conventional would be just as usable for blind readers while also being more usable for sighted readers.
posted by a mirror and an encyclopedia at 2:14 PM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

There's actually a font that was specifically developed to be helpful to large print readers, called APHont after the American Printing House for the Blind who developed it. Why not use that?

Yeah, this is the latest in a looooooooong history of people developing things without asking actual blind people what they might find useful. It's especially not relevant these days, because all modern braille translation software has a feature that shows the sighted user what the line of braille is saying in regular print.

/professional sighted braille transcriber
posted by Melismata at 2:24 PM on April 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

I don't know what might be bad for people using text-to-speech or a braille display.

There are standards for that, too!

The simple fact is that the creator of Braille Neue knows next to nothing about accessibility, and is getting an unfortunate amount of attention for a solution that solves for nothing.

Like, this piece from the Met on him:

How did he come up with the idea? Each morning before work, the young designer brainstorms ideas for 30 minutes and puts them in a notebook. Braille Neue originated from a simple question he asked himself—'why can I not read braille?'

Answer: He hasn't learned how.

Well, that's the thing: to a blind person, this would be totally indistinguishable from ordinary Braille. It's just plain Braille with printed characters overlaid on top of it.

But he's promoting use cases where clear standards for integrating printed text with Braille signage already exist.

It's a thing. Already. See the ADA standards for starters; others exist as well.

Moreover, Braille signage exists in a nexus of well-designed accessible wayfinding, construction, training of customer service staff, and all sort of other accessibility considerations.

People unfamiliar with accessibility and the extensive work and thought that's been put into accessibility problems by people who are experts in it and tireless advocates for it don't know or understand that, so they think this is amazing and innovative.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:26 PM on April 3, 2018 [7 favorites]

To answer the question above about Japanese Braille, it’s entirely phonetic rather than incorporating kanji in any way. What’s cool, though, is that it’s also extremely systematic: each Japanese Braille character is divided into one half for the vowel and one half for the consonant, so you don’t have to learn each letter/syllable individually.
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:01 PM on April 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

Why does it even need to be Futura or something else? Braille is just embossing a sign and doesn't need to contrast at all (I think it is contrasted on the site to illustrate how the font works, not that it needs to be contrasted when implemented).

Now consider how signs work, or at least, how I use signs as a sighted person. I like to see and read signs from a distance. Directionals, place markers, etc. It's why signs are huge. Granted, there are some smaller signs with details, but these are more optional and not necessary for navigation. How does this font work? A person who can see won't be able to see because a person who sees with their fingers is covering the sign. And now the sign has to be reachable, so now the sign is down low. And is the blind person really able to read a large sign with letters even 2 inches tall?

There is a serious usability issue here.

Also, the blind would be pretty teed off having to read something in Latin English when they've already got something faster and better.

I'm sorry, but this feels like a sighted person's ignorant attempt to be inclusive.
posted by linux at 4:21 PM on April 3, 2018

It's like it's exactly wrong, shitty for everybody in some way.
posted by rhizome at 4:24 PM on April 3, 2018

Also, if people could stop saying shit like "the blind" and "handicap," that would be helpful.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 4:37 PM on April 3, 2018

Speaking personally, I'd much rather be just called "blind," rather than "visually impaired," or what have you. It's a fact that I have no usable vision whatsoever, and I don't object to the label at all.

I recognize that the intensions behind asking for people to stop saying things like that are good ones. Nevertheless, I still feel that, with no obvious intent to be hurtful, it's okay.
posted by Alensin at 4:54 PM on April 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

Standards already exist, this font has readability issues. I still think this idea is a good start. Braille *should* be everywhere, but in practice there's a lot of places it isn't. There's a difference between saying "well, it's easy to just emboss Braille already" and actually doing it.

Combination fonts like this could go a long way toward making Braille and Braille literacy more mainstream. Now that the concept is out there, I expect the future to bring more and better combination fonts.
posted by aniola at 5:00 PM on April 3, 2018

This is a neat idea, but it's actually horrible. It's pretty much unreadable. As someone else said, just print the lettering and emboss the Braille on top of it. It also doesn't fix much, since the fact that the Braille dots are integrated into the font doesn't do anything without actually embossing stuff, and the printing and the embossing are by their nature two different processes.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 6:02 PM on April 3, 2018

It could be a help to sighted readers who want to learn Braille I guess?
posted by Iteki at 1:40 PM on April 4, 2018

It could be a help to sighted readers who want to learn Braille I guess?

Plenty of software and textbooks out there that already do this.
posted by Melismata at 2:10 PM on April 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Alensin: Speaking personally, I'd much rather be just called "blind," rather than "visually impaired," or what have you. It's a fact that I have no usable vision whatsoever, and I don't object to the label at all.

Oh, yeah. To be clear, what I was referring to was the broad category of "the blind." Which is a problem because it's not people-first language (i.e., "people who are blind"). My blind husband was annoyed by the language in this thread because "the blind" pisses him off. Being called "a blind person," or being included in the category of "people who are blind" does not. As a sighted person, I'm literally being led by someone who's blind on this topic.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:52 PM on April 5, 2018

Also, people who say "handicap" or "handicapped" really need to not do that and go out and educate themselves.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:53 PM on April 5, 2018

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