What Is Braille’s History?

6-dot cell by Braille

Here is a look at the history of braille, who developed it and where it all began.

Who Pioneered Braille?

Braille’s history goes a long way back to the early years of the 1800’s and was first developed by a man named Charles Barbier.

 “Night-Writing” By Charles Barbier

Charles Barbier who served in the French Army under Napoleon Bonaparte developed a system called “night writing”. This was said to be unique as it meant that soldiers were able to communicate safely while out at night.

night writing by Charles BarbierWith being a military veteran, it meant that Barbier had watched soldiers being killed because of the lamps they used to read the combat messages after dark.

The light which came from the lamps alerted the enemy to where the French soldiers were and unavoidably led to the deaths of many of the men.

Barbier’s “night writing” was based on the system of a raised 12-dot cell which was two dots wide plus six dots tall. The dot or combination of dots which were in the cell represented either a letter or phonetic sound, The military code was problematic, as the human fingertip was not able to feel all the dots with just one touch.

Then Came Louis Braille

In the village of Coupvray in France Louis Braille was born on 4th January 1809. He blinded himself at an early age while playing with his father’s awl as he poked himself in the eye with it. His father, a leather-worker, used the awl to poke holes in the leather products he made.

At the age of eleven Braille decided to alter the “night writing” code by Charles Barbier to try and create a more efficient system of written communication for fellow individuals who were also blind.

After being enrolled at the National Institute for the Blind which was in Paris, he spent the best part of nine years unfolding and filtering the system that was raised dots and this has now became known as Braille after his name.

Changes to Braille

6-dot cell by Braille
The 6-dot cell made by Braille.

Once Braille’s work was done, the code was based now on 6-dots only instead of the 12, it was before.  It was a crucial improvement as it now meant that a fingertip could be used to encompass the whole cell unit using one impression and therefore move more quickly from one cell to another.

Gradually over time, it was accepted all over the world that braille would be the essential part of written communication for the blind. Today, it remains that Louis Braille basically invented this.

There have however been small changes made to the braille system. It includes the addition of contractions representing groups of letters or whole words which crop up frequently within a language. Using contractions allows for faster braille reading as well as helping to reduce the size of the braille books. This makes them less cumbersome.

In 1853, aged 43 and a year before France, his home country, adopted braille as the official blind individual’s communication system, Braille passed away.

Braille’s Legacy Benefits Millions

Thanks to Louis Braille’s legacy, the lives of millions of blind people throughout the world benefit from his work every day. Braille code is transcribed in lots of different languages worldwide.

It would have made Louis proud, to know that a creation of his has given literacy to countless amounts of people over the years and decades.

People now who are blind can benefit from all that the printed word offers just the same as everyone else. This in effect is massively empowering which helps them to have success through school as well as in their careers.

code for BrailleOver the last century, a few groups were established for the modification and standardization of the braille code. The Braille Authority of North America (BANA) is the place to visit if you want to get up to date news and developments on braille. 

What is Braille?

Braille is a system of touch reading and writing for blind persons and raised dots represent the letters of the alphabet.  Braille also contains equivalents for punctuation marks and provides symbols to show letter groupings.

Braille was pioneered near enough 200 years ago. There have been a few different types of communication systems using writing tried out during a period of ten years starting in 1825. One was adopted on the 19th May 2011, this was discovered by a blind teenager.

Reading Braille

World Braille Day(2)The way to read braille is to move your hand from the left to the right along the line. Both hands are usually involved during the reading process although they mainly use the index finger to do the reading.

A speed of roughly 125 words per minute is the average for reading but it is possible to get  greater speeds of up to 200 words per minute.

Braille AlphabetUsing the braille alphabet means that blind people can actually study and review the written word. They also become aware of the different conventions for writing such as punctuation, paragraphing, footnotes and most of all spelling.

Blind individuals using braille have access to a great range of reading materials. These include educational and recreational reading as well as restaurant menus or even financial statements. Insurance policies, contracts, directories, cookbooks, and regulations are all things that are part of daily life.

By using braille, people who are blind are able to pursue any hobbies or cultural enrichment. They use materials like playing cards, board games, music scores, and even hymnals.

There have been different methods attempted to enable the blind to read over the years. Many of them are by using raised versions of the print letters.

The braille system has been accepted as the one that has succeeded. This is because it is based on the rational sequence of signs which have been devised for the use of the fingertips.

 Learning Braille

People who are visually impaired are taught to read braille as part of their vision loss program. It is also taught in the schools who are within communities.

Volunteers

Printed texts are transcribed into Braille by sighted volunteers. It can take them almost eight months of training till they are classed as certified Braillists.

Their training conforms to the standards that are set in unity with the Braille Authority of North America. Before being able to braille educational materials for students or being able to specialise in the transcription of music into braille, volunteers are required to undertake additional training.

Jerry is one of the volunteersThere are dedicated volunteers throughout America that go and work in communities to produce braille materials for people that have visual impairments.

Materials are produced in quantities by volunteers which are used to supplement both books and magazines by nonprofit organisations for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) of the Library of Congress.

These volunteers have all completed a detailed and lengthy course on Braille transcription which in return gives them an award by the Library of Congress as well as a Certificate of Proficiency in the appropriate Braille code.

Being a Braille volunteer rewards you with an immense sense of accomplishment together with learning a completely new system of reading and writing.

How Braille is Written

Early Braille

ss-write-mWhen braille was first written, it was by hand and a stylus was used to punch the dots into the paper. The writing was done backwards or from left to right as the dots were pushed into the back of the paper.

Modern Braille

There is now a kind of typewriter called the Perkins Brailler and this is generally used all over the world to write braille.

Perkins Brailler typewriterThe device has six keys which represent each of the six braille dots and to write a letter you have to press simultaneously the correct combination of keys, this then means that the dots are punched into the paper from the bottom meaning that the braille can be written the same way it is read i.e. from left to right.

The use of Braille has now been revolutionised by computer technology and here are some examples:

  • A braille display (also known as a screen reader) – a piece of equipment which is connected to the computer and reads screen text then presents it to the user via one line of refreshable braille.
  • A braille embosser – a type of printer which prints the text in braille dots. It relies on a braille translator to translate the text.
  • A braille keyboard – a keyboard which consists of six keys for producing braille dots, a space bar, carriage return and backspace key. This allows the user to type in braille.
  • Scanners – text can be converted into braille using a scanner and a computerised braille translation program.
  • Telebraille III – this device attaches to a telephone typewriter (TTY). The TTY is a small screen and typewriter that is used in place of the telephone handset so that the conversation is typed rather than spoken. The Telebraille III transcribes the written text then displays it in braille.

Braille around the home

Braille labellerBraille can be used with the same versatility as the written word for people who have no problems with reading but isn’t limited to just reading materials. A braille labelling gun is a basic tool which is used to stamp braille onto vinyl tape which has an adhesive backing, for more information about this contact your vision impaired association.

Here are some handy labelling suggestions you can make:

  • All of the cards in your wallet, including credit and ATM cards (keep in mind that some ATM machines may not accept cards with extra labels stuck on them)
  • Plastic zip lock bags, in which you may like to keep things like different colours of socks, pantyhose, wool and cotton etc.
  • Personal hygiene products such as shampoo and conditioner
  • The various buttons on appliances such as the microwave, washing machine, video recorder and oven.
  • CDs, DVDs, computer disks and videotapes.
  • The cans, packets and containers in your kitchen pantry.
  • Cleaning products.

Summary

I hope you have enjoyed this view into the history of how braille was developed. I found it rather interesting to see that the person who was thought to have invented braille and took credit for it, actually only altered and refined it. It was developed by someone else before him.

If you have any comments or feedback, please leave them in the comment section below or contact me at WealthyAffiliate.com, and I will be happy to help you.

Cheryl

10 comments

  1. Hi Cheryl.

    Thanks for this interesting and greatly informational post. I loved it.

    Knowing the history, has helped appreciate the developments that happened and the current system employed for communicating with and among the visually impaired.

    Yes, i believe Louise will be proud to know that his invention has made life easier for countless number of people, giving them literacy and equipping them for a life of impact and greater possibilities.

    I love knowledge, and you have just fed me with a great deal of it.

    I hope to see more enlightening contents here, as i plan to visit from time to time.

    1. Hi Festus, thanks very much for your comment and I am glad to see that you found this post interesting and informational. I enjoyed writing this post and found it interesting to see that the person who has received all the recognition for inventing braille was not actually the person who created it. 

      Please feel free to visit anytime you want and you are more than welcome to read any of my posts. 

  2. Hey Chezbrown, great post and loved the history lesson. I like how your post talks about the beginning of braille and the many uses that it has especially it being descended from night writing which is actually pretty cool.
    I’m a writer myself so I can definitely relate to that, I didn’t know that people could get trained on being braillists which I think is pretty awesome because it is a skill that people will have for the rest of their lives which comes in handy if they have children born with blindness.

    1. Hi R J, thank you and you are very welcome. I found it very interesting going back to the very beginning and was surprised to see that the person they thought had invented braille was actually not true. The part about the night writing I found to be very interesting.

      That is so very true and being able to read braille is an awesome skill to have, especially if they do have children who are blind when born. 

      I am pleased to hear that you liked the post as well as the history lesson. 

  3. Wow, how very interesting Cheryl! I have always wondered how braille’s history came about.

    Very informative post! For a long time as I’ve grown up I’ve always wanted to learn how to read braille.

    I had no idea of all the tools that are available out there to make braille. The brailly keyboard, and labeler look really neat!

    1. Hi Zack, thanks very much for your comment. I really enjoyed creating this post and found it very interesting. 

      I have always wondered if it would be difficult to read braille and think that these are things that people who have their sight should be able to try this out so they can seeI  what people who are blind or visually impaired are actually experiencing. 

      I was the same as yourself Zack and was very surprised to see what was all available as well. I loved the look of labeler as well.

      I am pleased to see that you found this informative and interesting. 

  4. Interesting history on braille. I had heard of Louis Braille, but didn’t realize it started back in the time of Napoleon. It’s amazing that Braille started building the code as a child that would benefit so many blind people today. Hard to believe that you could read an average of 125 words a minute, but I guess once you’re used to reading braille, you can do it quicker.

    1. Hi Kevin, thanks very much for your comment and I was the same as yourself, I never knew it started away back then either. This was an interesting post to do and I really enjoyed creating it and finding out the history of braille. I suppose that reading braille is like typing, the more you do it and get used to it, the faster you can go. Yes he was a clever young boy who was able to pick it up from the Napoleon era and then extend on it and make it what it is today. 

  5. Hey Cheryl:

    I’ve always wondered how the braille system of writing and reading was created and developed. It seems like a such a godsend for folks who are vision-impaired or blind.

    I find it interesting that it all started as a military code that evolved into a way for blind people to be able to read, learn and break through the isolation and inability to access the knowledge contained in books.

    Talk about beating swords into plowshares. Good one!

    Thanks for this very interesting post.

    1. Hi Netta, I found this a very interesting post to do for the very same reason as yourself. I really was surprised that the very first braille was created as a way of night writing for the military.

      Louis Braille was a very clever young guy who managed to start with the basic night writing code and turn it into the braille as we know it now for the blind and visually impaired. \

      What they have managed to do with Braille now is amazing and is so advanced compared back to the early days of when braille was first created.  

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