What is Braille And How It Was Created
The widely accepted definition of Braille is that it is a touch reading and writing system for the blind and visually impaired. This may be clear and straightforward enough. But looking past this definition, we will find that Braille offers so much more than just a way for blind people to read and write. We will also see that behind this system lies a story of hope, perseverance, and ingenuity.
Louis Braille: The Man Behind It All
This story started more than 200 years ago in France, with a lad named Louis Braille. When he was just 3, Louis accidentally injured his eye while playing with his father’s tools. Despite his family’s efforts to send him to several doctors, the injury led to an infection that spread to his other eye. This ultimately caused Louis’ blindness.
Louis however managed to receive a scholarship at a school for the blind in Paris. There, the students’ means of reading was through the use of books whose texts were in the form of tactile shapes of letters. These books were incredibly difficult to produce, and they were very heavy and also difficult to read.
While he was a student, Louis encountered Captain Charles Barbier de la Serre. Barbier had devised a system for soldiers to read and write messages in the dark. Louis was in awe when he felt the dots of the sample messages created through Barbier’s night-writing system. Learning the system thoroughly, Louis identified the major problems with Captain Barbier’s system and worked to improve it.
After several attempts, Louis, at age 15, finally completed the modifications and unveiled his alphabet to his classmates and teacher. The main difference between Louis’ alphabet system and Barbier’s system was that Louis’ had smaller dots which could be felt under one fingertip.
The alphabet system was received positively by his school. When he was 20 years old, he created the first book about his system. Later on, he and a few of his friends became professors at the school. All of them were using the alphabet system.
Louis Braille and his reading and writing system was not without its own major challenges. Changes in the school’s administration caused a policy to implement another writing system for the blind by John Alston. This was a print-like tactile system. Implementation of this tactile system included the destruction of all books written in Louis Braille’s writing system.
After several turns of events, Louis Braille’s system was again accepted by the school. Many groups from other countries inquired about the writing system. Soon, people began to refer to the system as Braille in recognition of its creator. Louis Braille continued teaching through his writing system until his death in 1852.
Louis Braille’s legacy lived on long after he passed away. A few years after his death, France deemed Braille as the official communications system for blind people. At the school for the blind, Braille’s colleagues created ways to improve the system, retaining its primary structure. The Braille system soon spread to other countries and eventually gained worldwide recognition and acceptance.
A Close Look at Braille
After learning about the awe-inspiring story of Braille, let us take a look at what it is exactly.
Braille consists of raised dots that represent letters of the print alphabet. Since the dots in the specific medium used (e.g. Braille paper) are raised, they can be easily felt by blind people. Braille also includes symbols for numbers and punctuations.
Each set of dots is grouped within a cell. A single cell contains two vertical parallel rows. And in each row, there are three dots, making it a total of six dots. A specific combination of these raised dots represents a particular character.
The slate and stylus are the most common writing tools for Braille. The slate provides equal spaces for the cells and the depressions for the dots. The stylus is a pointed device for creating the individual dots on paper. The writer inserts paper in the slate and punches the stylus into the paper to create the raised dots.
Unlike regular printed text, Braille requires that the writer has to punch in the opposite of the character. This is done so that the characters can be read the right way once the paper is turned over. After creating the raised dots, the writer takes out the paper from the slate and reads the created Braille dots.
Apart from the slate and stylus, the Braille writer has become a common writing tool for people who use Braille. This is the Braille equivalent of the typewriter. A regular Braille writer has six keys representing the six dots, and a space key. The user has to insert the paper in the Braille writer. Then the user presses the key combination of the desired character.
Braille writers enable users to write more quickly. This made Braille writers very popular among blind and visually impaired groups around the world. However, the slate and stylus still maintain their importance. This is because these tools remain the most portable and cost-effective devices for writing Braille.
More than a Reading and Writing System
Braille is not just a way for blind people to read and write. Several innovations paved the way for it to be implemented in other major fields.
Braille in Music
Musicians who cannot see standard print music notations can make use of Braille music. This is a type of Braille code that enables a person to write music in Braille. Similar to the traditional Braille system, Braille music uses the same cell structure with six dots. Braille music has its own distinct set of meanings for each symbol. It also has its own abbreviations.
Braille in Mathematics
Braille includes symbols for mathematical operations and math-related characters and notations. This enables blind persons to read and write equations, computations, and other mathematical statements.
Tactile Representations Inspired by Braille
Braille also gives blind people the chance to feel and understand graphs, diagrams, and simple pictures. There are now tactile images that use Braille dots to represent the details of these types of documents. Although there are limitations as to what can be expressed in a tactile way, it still provides a good avenue for the blind to know the information that sighted people see in these visual representations.
In the next post, I discuss how Braille is used in modern technologies.