What is Jumbo Braille?

A. B. Kelsey

Jumbo braille, also called expanded-cell braille or large cell braille, is an alternative way to write the special "language" of the blind and visually impaired. In jumbo braille, the dot combinations are identical to those used in traditional braille, but the horizontal spacing between the dots and cells is increased just a little bit. The dots themselves are the same size as those used in standard-sized braille.

Jumbo braille was specifically developed for the blind people who have less sensitivity in their fingers.
Jumbo braille was specifically developed for the blind people who have less sensitivity in their fingers.

Jumbo braille was specifically developed for the blind people who have less sensitivity in their fingers and, therefore, cannot accurately feel the dots used in the traditional style. Individuals who are just learning the Braille language may also find this larger braille to be a good first step. Many beginner workbooks start students out with jumbo braille and then ease them into the standard size. Jumbo braille is not widely used by publishers, however, and very few books are produced in this larger format. So although jumbo braille is considered an excellent learning tool, it might be a good idea to move on to reading the regular-sized braille after a fairly short time.

In all sizes of braille, the characters are embossed on paper and then read by lightly running the fingertips over the manuscript. Each braille character is placed within a small rectangle called a braille cell. Each letter and symbol is represented by one to six raised dots, and the different arrangements of these dots indicate various letters, numbers, capitalization, and punctuation.

This system of reading by touch was invented by a Frenchman named Louis Braille in the 1820s. After losing his sight when he was just a young boy, Louis Braille searched for a way he and his blind friends could communicate privately. Adapting a code which had been tested and rejected by Napoleon’s military, Braille was able to create a method for blind people to read and write independently.

Individuals can write in braille by using a special stylus to press dots into a piece of paper held between two hinged metal plates. When the sheet is turned over, the embossed dots should be pointed up and read from left to right. It is also possible to write this language by using an electronic embossing machines or a braille typewriter. Not only is jumbo braille easier to read, but it is also easier to write because the cell windows are larger and it is easier for beginners to position the stylus correctly.

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Discussion Comments


Of the four blind and visually-impaired people I know, three don't have the sensitivity in their fingers required to read the smaller braille, yet jumbo braille is still not the standard. This needs to change.

Diabetes is a major cause of blindness and it causes diabetics to lose sensitivity in their fingers. How many diabetics cannot read braille books because they cannot read the smaller braille? It's time to change the standard, or at least get much more literature published in both the current standard braille and jumbo braille.

I can read the current standard braille, but I don't have diabetes. I can order braille books from commercial sources, but my diabetic friends would be wasting their money.

I am learning braille, now, while I can still read with my eyes, before I lose my eyesight. I will eventually lose some of my vision due to an old injury in one eye. I suspect that it is easier to learn braille while sighted than after sight is gone or diminished, because so much information on braille is written by sighted people.

Reading online information with screen readers is not always an option, because most quality screen readers are outrageously expensive. The cheaper ones don't always work on essential software or are not compatible with the potential user's operating system, be it Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, FreeBSD, etc.

Braille can be useful for sighted people who like to read while others sleep or who would like to continue reading during blackouts like, say, the days following a hurricane.

It can also come in handy if you want to label things that would normally require a flashlight to read, like controls on the back of a TV or books and boxes in the bedroom of someone who works nights.


I've always been kind of fascinated by Braille. I love to read, so I really value my eyesight. I know if I went blind I could read a Braille book, but it would take time for me to actually learn Braille.

It's good to know there's a kind of Braille out there that is well suited to people who are just starting out. I can also see how it would be easier to write in jumbo Braille since you can leave more spaces between the Braille bumps.

I don't see this becoming widely used though, because it takes up so much more space than regular Braille!

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