Can anyone learn to read Braille by touch?

This question is inspired by my medication packaging!

I understand the basics of how Braille writing works. But whenever I have come across Braille, I have never been able to feel the individual dots. If you gave me a single Braille cell, I can’t imagine how I could identify the number and position of dots, in order to tell which letter it was. The dots just seem far too small and shallow.

So, I wonder whether anyone can learn Braille, if they practice enough? Or do you need especially sensitive fingers? Do some blind people just completely fail in their attempts to learn? Is it harder for people who are blinded later in life?

I learned to read Braille by sight when I was helping a friend with MS. She had lost most of her sight.

I’d go over and label her grocery items and help out. Braille is easy to read by sight. The dot patterns are very distinctive.

At one time I had a braille slate and pen. Note cards are good for braille because the paper is thick.

Well, yeah, Braille isn’t difficult to learn by sight. The OP grants that. But how hard is it to learn by touch. Like the OP, it seems pretty darned difficult to me, as I also have a hard time distinguishing the bump pattern by touch. I assume it’s just a matter of practice makes perfect, but how long does it take?

Well, it does help to have fingers…

Presumably, if one is not a hand/arm amputee one should be about to read braille by touch. However, if you have something like diabetic neuropathy that diminishes your sense of touch in your extremities you may not have fingers sensitive enough to discern the dots. Heavy calluses could also interfere with the ability to touch-read braille.

But, absent either of those, yes, just about anyone should be able to learn to read braille by touch.

But is braille used much anymore?

A blind friend says she hardly ever does anymore. Many things come to her electronically, paper documents like bank statements & credit card bills she scans, and then uses her computer screen reader to read them. Books & newspapers the same way – much easier (& cheaper) to have e-books rather than braille ones.

The number of blind people who can’t read Braille is pretty high, probably over 80%. And, yes, it is the tacticion part that’s hard. But you get better results, especially as a beginner, if you hold your two index fingers together along the side. That way you get twice as many nerve endings on the dots. Also, don’t try to imagine what you feel as the visual image. Going by how it feels will make things go faster.

That’s like asking if anyone writes anything by hand instead of typing.

Sure, e-stuff and voice has displaced many applications of braille, but signs in/on buildings are still in braille, elevators are labeled in braille, some nations have braille on their paper currency, and so forth.

Not to mention those who are both deaf and blind find braille extremely useful.

How does the speed of someone reading (say, a book or newspaper) in Braille compare to the speed of a normal, sighted person reading print, and to the speed of reading aloud/audiobooks?

So do some drive-through bank ATMs.

Based on a couple of blind people I’ve know who were heavy braille users, braille is slower than reading by sight in many cases, but once mastered is faster than audiobooks.

Of course, this varies enormously from person to person. Just as not everyone sight reads equally fast (there is, in fact, an enormous range of speeds right there) not everyone touch-reads at the same speed.

Ahh, so I’m thinking about it the wrong way? It’s not a case of thinking “ok, there’s two dots there, one there, and one there, so it’s the letter P”, it’s a case of recognizing the feel of the letter as a whole?

You’re puzzled by Braille on drive-through ATMs, but I’m puzzled by the concept of a drive-through ATM! To me, it seems both incredibly lazy and an inefficient use of land!

But presumably, drive-through ATMs have Braille keys because all ATMs have Braille keys, and it would be pointless to set up a separate production line to manufacture Braille-less keys.

Why inefficient use of land?
Without it, cistomers would have to park their car, go inside the bank, wait in line to make their withdrawal/deposit. Thus requiring more parking spaces, used for a longer period of time. Probably the same, maybe even more land used.

Not really. They just bring a chuckle, as did Alberta when it installed rumble strips on highway exits at stop signs.

Braille stop signs.

Yes, this is as it was explained to me by a blind fellow I knew. It’s a mistake to try to imagine the geometry of the dots you’re feeling. Instead, each combination of dots is a unique sensation that you learn through much practice.

As an analogy, you don’t examine each line and curve of the letters you see to figure out what it is; you just see the letter as a single unit and know what it is.

When you read the letter “P” you don’t think “there’s a line and a half circle attached to the upper right side of the line, so it’s the letter P”, do you? No. And when you learn to read braille fluently it’s the same thing - you recognize the dot clusters as various letters (and characters) automatically, you don’t have to decode them. You recognize the shapes as letters just as you do when you read by sight.

Well, over time, you learn to read Braille in a way analogous to “whole word” reading, in that you do not look at each individual letter (or dot), but the shape of the word (or cell of dots) as a whole, so that anything that looks vaguely like “the,” for example, becomes “the” for you.

What I’m trying to say, though, is slightly different in that the actual geometric space of the Braille cells doesn’t map out exactly in the same way with vision and with tactition. So, what the letter “A” looks like in Braille isn’t quite what it feels like. Part of childhood development, in fact, is figuring out the way that touch maps to vision. So, if you’re learning by touch, what I’m suggesting is to keep things totally in the realm of touch, as one less level of interpretation.

At the beginning, this makes things harder because you have to memorize the alphabet blindly, but this difficulty is usually more than made up over time.

I speak in generalities here of course. YMMV.

ETA: I’m not sure how far along you’re planning to go with Braille, but if you want to read anything longer than a few sentences, you’ll have to learn a whole slew of abbreviations and shortcuts that cut down on the number of characters you have to read. That can get pretty frustrating, at least until you get the hang of the system.

I should also add that I am fully sighted, but I learned Braille at a young age to keep my parents form realizing I was reading when I was supposed to be sleeping. I’m pretty sure they knew though. So, I’m far from being a Braille expert, but I might call myself a devoted amateur. I haven’t actually read anything substantial in Braille in years, though, now that I can leave the lights on as long as I want.

They are trying to revitialize Braille usage in Schools for the Blind. I remember about ten years ago there was a huge flurry of excitement about trying to get blind/low vision kids literate in Braille, b/c there was a Braille literacy= higher employment rate corralation. I have a friend who went to Perkins School for the Blind and never got to learn Braille.
I think too that sighted/nondisabled people may forget that early blind (not late blinded, as most blindness is due to aging) people may have higher sensativey to other types of input besides sight. Sighted people seem to think blind= sight impairment, but you might as well think "they don’t have sight, but they also have sharper hearing/more sensative touch.

It seems to me it’s used much more nowadays than in the past. In the past decade I’ve noticed it starting to appear on medicine packets, bottles of bleach and other household products, even frozen pizzas. I’m sure it never used to be as widespread.

As for reading it, I’ve often wondered the same thing, as I find it impossible. (See post number 8 in this ancient thread).