Adding a Braille Touch to Special Occasions – An Activity for Mother’s Day

Editor’s note: Mother’s Day is around the corner! Dads and others, what a perfect opportunity to work alongside your child to create a tactile card for Mom using a braille design. Have fun and don’t forget to make the experience meaningful to your child!

Adding a Braille Touch to Special Occasions

By Sheila Rousey, VisionAware Peer Advisor

It would seem that we celebrate a special occasion or holiday and, then before we know it, we are celebrating yet another one. Some holidays seem to get a bit more attention than others, but a visit to your local retail store’s card department will get you up to speed on virtually every event and holiday in the upcoming weeks or months. From the card section, a walk through the party supplies provides you with a variety of decorations representing some of the special traditions or symbols associated with the upcoming events. As you shop through the cards and then select your decorations for your planned events, you have the freedom to tailor your selections to your specific desires.

For children who are blind or visually impaired, this is a great time to pull out the braille writer and create some holiday decorations and cards. With a little imagination and some patience, your child can create really nice raised works of art. You and your child should be able to participate in this activity regardless of your ability to read or write braille. This is a fun way to introduce your child to the world of braille. So, let’s get started on your first project.

Materials Needed

You can select from a wide array of paper choices for your creation. Just keep in mind that the paper needs to be thick enough to hold the raised dots without actually punching holes into your paper. You will also want to avoid very thick papers or plastic type sheets because they may not provide enough tactile detail for your creations. If you are unsure about the paper you have selected, use a sheet of your chosen paper and create a sample of raised dots with your braille writer. You can find a large selection of paper at your local craft store within the scrapbook section.

You will also want to have a braille eraser on hand for those little mistakes that you will no doubt make as you are creating your raised works of art.

Getting Started with a Braille Writer

Given that you and your child may not have yet gained much experience in using a braille writer, a brief description of the keys are provided moving from the left front of the keyboard to the right front side of your keyboard.

  • The slightly raised rounded key on the far left is the line down key. You can use this key to move to the next blank line on the page.
  • You will next find a row containing seven keys; six keys are slightly elongated and one, positioned in the middle of the elongated keys, that feels like a chubby upside down capital letter T. This larger key is known as the space bar. You will use it to insert blank spaces within your designs.
  • The three slightly elongated keys to the left and to the right of the space bar correspond to the six dots in the braille cell and are used to make the braille characters.
  • The slightly raised rounded key on the far right side is the back space key. This key allows you to move backwards one cell at a time.
  • The large curved shaped key above the keys is known as the carriage return. This key allows you to move to any position on your current line of braille or to move back to the beginning of a new line of braille after you have pressed the line down key.

Now let’s focus on the six elongated keys to the right and left of the spacebar. As mentioned above, each key corresponds to a number. In order to form the raised dot patterns required to make your design, you will have to know which keys correspond to which numbers. Here is an easy way to understand how the keys are numbered. Place your hands together with all of your fingers touching the fingers of your other hand.

Your Left Hand

Thumb = spacebar
Pointer finger = number 1
Middle finger = number 2
Ring finger = number 3

Your Right Hand

Thumb = spacebar
Pointer finger = number 4
Middle finger = number 5
Ring finger = number 6

Now, that you know the numbers for each finger, move your hands apart with your palms facing downward while keeping your thumbs touching. Your hands are now in position to place on the keys. You can use your thumb from either hand to press the space bar. Please note that you will need to press some combination of keys all at the same time in order to create the dot pattern you want. Each of the six keys that form the braille cell is only going to make a raised dot for the position it holds within the braille cell.

You will want to give your design area as much space as possible so make sure that the margins are each moved to the sides of the margin stops. These margin adjustments are found on the back of the braille writer just below the opening for your paper to be inserted. Now, insert your paper into the braille writer and lock it into place with the paper release key on the left or the right top edge next to the roller knobs. Roll your paper into the braille writer and then press the line down key once to set your first line. You are now ready to begin.

Your First Work of Art

A great way to gain some drawing practice is to use prepared designs. In following the instructions, you and your child will gain some valuable experience in creating shapes with braille dot combinations that show you how to make angles and curves for your own unique creations.

Patterns are typically provided with the number of lines that will be needed in order to make the design. Remember that at the end of each line, you must move the carriage return key to the left margin and then press the line down key to get to a new unused line. Some patterns must use the paper in horizontal position because the line of braille cells is too long for using paper in the vertical position. You can use up to 32 braille cells on an 8.5 by 11-inch page in a vertical position. You can use up to 42 braille cells on an 11 X 8.5-inch page in the horizontal position.

Use These Tips for Following the Instructions for Ready-Made Patterns

  • Each line is numbered to help you keep your place. The directions may say “Line 1, 2,3, etc.”
  • When there are parenthesis surrounding numbers separated by commas, you are going to press all of the numbered keys within the parenthesis at the same time to form the braille cell.
  • The word “space” means that you are going to press the space bar. If a number follows the word, you will press the space bar that many times.
  • Pay attention to the commas in the directions. A comma is used to separate each task that you are to do for the line you are currently working on.

Reading Simple Directions

Look at the following directions and try to use them to create your first design. You will use eight lines for this drawing.

Line 1: Space 2, Write dots (4,5,6), Write dots (1,6)

Line 2: Space 2, Write dots (4,5,6), Space 1, Write dots (1,6).

Line 3: Space 2, Write dots (4,5,6), Space 2, Write dots (1,6).

Line 4: Space 2, Write dots (4,5,6), Space 3, Write dots (1,6).

Line 5: Space 2, Write dots (4,5,6), Space 4, Write dots (1,6).

Line 6: Space 2, Write dots (4,5,6), Space 5, Write dots (1,6).

Line 7: Space 2, Write dots (4,5,6), Write dots (3,6) six times, Write dots (1,6).

Line 8: Space 1, Write dots (1,2,4,5,6), Write dots (1,2,3,4,5,6) seven times, Write dots (1,2,3,4,5).

If your drawing produced a sailboat, you are on your way to sailing into a world of creativity. Congratulations!

Additional Braille Art Resources

“So What About Drawing” by Marie Porter

Paths to Literacy Artistic Braille Designs and Directions Provided by Edith West

“Drawing with Your Perkins Brailler” — An activity book that provides instructions for creating a variety of raised line designs. This book can be purchased in either a print or braille edition.

Hadley Institute for the Blind-Braille Exchange — You can download the transcript or an audio version of the webinar to follow along and create your own raised line designs.

Additional FamilyConnect Resources for Celebrating Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day Craft and Card Ideas

The Greatest Love: Celebrating Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day Weekend with My Child Who Is Blind