Braille Signage

I passed a few minutes in the high school lobby (while waiting for the Fencing team to return from a competition) trying to decipher the Braille signs. I’ve always had my doubts about the utility of these things, but I suppose if you’re going to have signs, they may as well have tactile lettering, too.

Anyhow, what little I knew about Braille (six dots, um, 64 symbols, um, tapers off after that) didn’t extend to actually knowing any of the letters, but how hard could a substitution cipher be? I figured out most of the letters in Stairway quickly, but some were obviously missing. Perhaps Braille includes symbols for common digraphs?

Stairway
Stairway

The Library across the lobby provided more letters, with obvious mismatches that showed I wasn’t anywhere near as clever as I thought (a distressingly common situation these days). Perhaps the two leading dots indicate “Here be there text”?

Library
Library

Then I found the Ticket Booth, which strongly suggested digraph symbols.

Ticket Booth
Ticket Booth

Upon returning home, I did the obvious search and eventually wound up at the Library of Congress Instruction Manual for Braille Transcribing: a short introduction to a very complex subject. Poring through Appendix B provided all the correspondences I needed:

  • The basic alphabet is sorta-kinda decimal
  • Yup, digraphs have their own encoding
  • The two leading dots are a sticky uppercase shift marker
  • Fortunately, I didn’t encounter real contractions
  • There’s an 8-dot variant coming into play

Some years ago we took an introductory course in American Sign Language when one of my not-quite-a-nephew (son of a cousin, whatever that is) went deaf. Without anyone for day-to-day practice we never achieved fluency, but that was a window into another world, too. We still pass a few basic signs to each other across a noisy room …

Photography note: photograph signs from far enough off-axis that the flash hotspot on the surface is out of the image. If you must get a rectangular sign out of it, apply a perspective transformation to the image.