Braille has been a part of our world since the 1800s. Louis Braille, blinded at the age of three, invented the system in 1824 while a student at the Institution Nationale des Jeunes Aveugles (National Institute for Blind Children), Paris. Louis Braille was born in Coupvray, France, on January 4, 1809. He attended the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris, France as a student. At that time, books were created using raised print, which was laborious to produce, hard to read, and difficult for individuals to write. While attending the institute, Braille yearned for more books to read. He experimented with ways to create an alphabet that was easy to read with the fingertips. The writing system he invented at age fifteen evolved from the tactile "Ecriture Nocturne" (night writing) code developed by Charles Barbier for sending military messages that could be read on the battlefield at night without a light. Learn more about the creation of the braille code by exploring AFB's Louis Braille Online Museum.
Today, there are Braille libraries, dictionaries, and documents for people who want to learn about it. On World Braille Day, we will discuss some known and unknown facts about Braille.
What is Braille?
Braille is a system of raised dots that can be read with the fingers by people who are blind or who have low vision. Teachers, parents, and others not visually impaired ordinarily read braille with their eyes. Braille is not a language. Instead, it is a code by which many languages—such as English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and dozens of others—may be written and read. Braille is used by thousands of people all over the world in their native languages and provides a means of literacy for all.
The specific code used in the United States has been English Braille, American Edition. Still, as of 2022, the main principle for reading material is Unified English Braille, a code used in seven other English-speaking countries.
How is Braille written?
When every letter of every word is expressed in braille, it is referred to as uncontracted braille. Some books for young children are written in uncontracted braille, although it is less widely used for adult reading material. However, when they first learn braille, many newly blinded adults find uncontracted braille valid for labelling personal or kitchen items.
The standard system for reproducing most textbooks and publications is contracted braille. In this system, cells are used individually or in combination with others to form a variety of contractions or whole words.
Most children learn contracted braille from kindergarten on, and contracted braille is considered the standard in the United States, used on signs in public places and general reading material. 180 letter contractions are used in contracted braille(including 75 short-form words, which are simple abbreviations). These "shortcuts" reduce the volume of paper needed for reproducing books in braille and make the reading process more accessible.
Just as printed matter can be produced with paper and pencil, typewriter, or printer, braille can also be written in several ways. The braille equivalent of paper and pencil is the slate and stylus. This consists of a slate or template with evenly spaced depressions for the dots of braille cells and a stylus for creating the individual braille dots. With the paper placed in the slate, tactile dots are made by pushing the pointed end of the stylus into the report over the depressions. The paper bulges on its reverse side, forming dots. Because they are inexpensive and portable, the slate and stylus are especially helpful for carrying to jot quick notes and for labelling such things as file folders.
Braille is also produced by a machine known as a braille writer. Unlike a typewriter with more than fifty keys, the braille writer has only six keys, a space bar, a line spacer, and a backspace. The six primary keys are numbered to correspond with the six dots of a braille cell. Because most braille symbols contain more than a single dot, combinations of the braille writer keys can be pushed simultaneously.
Technological developments in the computer industry have provided and continue to expand additional avenues of literacy for braille users.
Software programs and portable electronic braille devices allow users to save and edit their writing, have it displayed back to them either verbally or tactually, and produce a hard copy via a desktop computer-driven braille embosser. Because computers are so standard in schools, children learn braille contractions and how to spell words out letter-for-letter so they can spell and write using a keyboard.
Since its development in France by Louis Braille in the latter part of the nineteenth century, braille has become an effective means of communication and an essential avenue for achieving and enhancing literacy for people who are blind or have significant vision loss. Braille is here to stay!