Homophones are Not Mistaken in Braille

“Hi, I went to your web sight and did not find information about your bored. If sum one is on this list, please let me know.”

Cover image for "A Writer's Companion" shows a bare arm holding a sign: "The Right to Bare Arms"

I’ve attended my share of bored meetings, in the truest sense of the word, but the errors in this listserv post point to a separate problem—words that sound alike but mean different things and are spelled differently. We’ve had customers email us to complain about “sellphone charges,” ask if it’s “all rite too send cash,” or question what “cited people” think, adding, “if only they could see it threw my eyes.”

Homophone slips are ubiquitous: I remember how embarrassed I felt when a published review on a book I had edited flagged my misuse of “peak” for “pique.” I was supposed to know better because I was getting paid to know better. But the likelihood of homophone abuse goes up, in my experience, when speech is the primary mode of reading and writing. In fact, ahem, if you’re reading this blog with JAWS, you may wonder what crime has been committed.

There are three possible trip-ups for writers in this arena:

  • Homonyms: Two or more words that are spelled the same and sound the same but mean something different: The ROSE bush ROSE up 12 feet high.
  • Homophones: Two or more words that sound the same, but are spelled differently, and mean different things: The BEAR was BARE.
  • Homographs: Two or more words that are spelled the same but sound different and mean different things: The striped BASS played the BASS guitar.

Lorraine Rovig, who works at the National Federation of the Blind, suggested that NBP publish a list of homophones in braille. What better way to learn about words that sound alike but are spelled differently than by touch? Sound alone compounds the problem. We added some other cool stuff and called it A Writer’s Companion.

Is this a shameless plug for the book? It is. We all knead two no how too rite better oar look foolish. Blind people face many obstacles but writing a professional cover letter or a college essay need not be one of them. This email from Grace Scullin was spotless: “I love A Writer’s Companion! If it had only helped me with there / their / they’re, I would have been satisfied.”

Read a review of A Writer’s Companion from Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind.

Tour Our Braille Facility and Witness a Labor of Love


At National Braille Press, we welcome visitors.  Producing braille is a fascinating and labor-intensive process, which visitors from all over the world have seen during tours of our braille publishing house.  You can find us in a former piano factory in the heart of Boston’s Fenway neighborhood.

We open our doors to teach others how braille is produced but also to remind the world that braille remains an essential literacy tool for blind people. Braille obsolete?  Not on our watch!

Recently, a family from New Hampshire visited.  Their 8-year-old daughter, Abby, is a braille reader and has a bookshelf of NBP books at home.  Duffy family on NBP tourAbby, her brother, Sam, along with her mom and dad toured NBP a few weeks back and were impressed with the mix high-tech and low-tech strategies that go into embossing over 10 million pages of braille each year.  Abby’s mom, Penny, even wrote about it on her blog.

Here is an excerpt of what Penny had to say about her trip to NBP:

It was exciting when we got to the door because it was locked and you had to ring the buzzer to get let in. But wait, remember, this is National Braille Press and on the door in braille was the directions to hit the buzzer.  Abby read the door for us and hit the buzzer so we could be let in.

We were led into a conference room and encouraged to explore some of the titles that NBP sells.  Abby loved Make Way for Ducklings and read a few pages while we waited.  (It’s been added to our wish list).

We viewed a video about National Braille Press and then were led through all the departments including Transcription, Proofreading, Embossing, Pressing, Tactile Graphics and Finishing.  It was a wonderful learning experience and a lot of fun.  It was fascinating watching the big presses add braille from the plates.

What was the biggest surprise was the level of work done by hand throughout the process.  All the people we met from the different departments were so nice. It was an extra treat for them to have a braille reader as part of our party. They were so kind to us and so wonderful with Abby.

We learned a lot and I really recommend a visit if you have a chance sometime.   Special locations sometimes have a mood, a vibe, and this was one of those places. You couldn’t help but feel the LOVE…a pure JOY of braille throughout the whole building.

I encourage you to read Penny’s full blog post and if you are interested in taking a tour of National Braille Press in Boston, please contact us at 888.965.8965.

Who’s Leading Who? Guide Dogs, Stereotypes, and Joy

When I started working at National Braille Press almost ten years ago, I had very little knowledge about braille or the blindness community. I was drawn to NBP because I love to read and was shocked that there was so little material available in braille. NBP’s mission was a social justice issue for me.

But I worried a bit about how best to convey that message.  I wanted to get the tone right and not pander to stereotypes that may raise money but do NOT raise awareness.

Liooking Out for SarahThen I read a speech that Diane Croft had given at the Guide Dog Users of Massachusetts Award Dinner on a print/braille book NBP produced called Looking Out for Sarah. The speech was addressed to Glenna Lang, the author, and her guide dog.  It resonated with me and changed my thinking forever.

Here is an excerpt of what Diane wrote:

I have lived through three movements: civil rights, women’s rights, and disability rights.  In all three cases much has changed and much remains the same.

And so, when a children’s book on blindness crosses my desk, I brace myself. Even after 20* years in the field, I am astonished to see the same age-old stereotypes that permeate our society reflected, either subtly or profoundly, within the images and text of a book. To be honest, when I saw the title Looking Out for Sarah, I wondered if this would be another book where someone “looks after” a blind adult.

But then I read the opening sentence: “In the early morning light…”

I assume you know with those five words you broke through one of the oldest and most deeply entrenched stereotypes–namely, that blind people live in the dark.

The book continues:

“Perry felt Sarah stirring about him…he waited eagerly for her feet to touch the floor.”

The reader feels an immediate sense of anticipation and even joy at the start of a new day. For the most part, sighted people do no equate blindness with joy.

Throughout the book, the question of who is looking after whom fluctuates between Sarah and Perry. How wonderful you didn’t err in either direction. Perry looks out for overhanging branches, but it’s Sarah who initiates their adventuresome cross-country journey.

Your important book addresses core relationship issues of dependency and independence, of submission and initiation. Sarah and Perry both initiate and give up control to each other depending on the situation.

Your beautiful book shows that in all healthy, joyful relationships, there is a constant sharing and shifting–back and forth–between who needs whom, who takes care of whom, and how we love one another.

*Diane Croft, Publisher at NBP, has worked at National Braille Press for over 30 years.