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31 Days of Braille: Day 4

Happy Birthday Louis Braille!

This article was originally posted on The Iris Network website and the links have been updated:

Happy 213th Birthday Louis Braille!

Louis Braille was born in a small town outside Paris, named Coupvray, on January 4, 1809. This year marks the 213th anniversary of his birthday. January is also designated as Braille Awareness Month. As a 12 year old boy, at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris, Braille began developing the braille alphabet, used today by people all over the world who are blind or visually impaired. Young Louis became interested in creating a system of reading using raised, tactile dots, after a chance meeting with a French soldier named Charles Barbier. Barbier showed Louis a system he created called Night Writing that soldiers might use to read by touch. Barbier’s system was complicated, using 12 dots, and ultimately was never used by the French army.

By the age of 15, young Braille developed his system using a six dot cell for each character in the alphabet and some grammatical characters. At first, his school did not recognize this method of writing and reading, so Braille’s initial system became a secret code that spread quickly among the other students.

Prior to Braille’s system, the few books used with students who were blind had to be created using a slow, expensive process of embossing letters and words onto heavy paper. Students traced the characters with their fingers, so reading was very slow. At the time, Braille attended school in Paris, the school’s library contained of only 14 books. Braille’s system of raised dots was much easier to create than embossed letters, and faster to read with fingertips.

Braille taught his system of dots as a teacher at the school after he graduated, and several books were transcribed into Braille before his death. On January 6, 1852, Louis Braille died at age 43, and both he and his system of raised dots remained relatively unknown outside the school for some years.

Although Braille’s system gradually gained acceptance throughout Europe, it was not until 1870 that the original founders of the Royal National Institute for the Blind declared braille to be the best choice for students in Britain who were blind or visually impaired. In the United States, the Missouri School for the Blind adopted braille as early as 1860. Despite opposition by the school’s superintendent to adopt braille, students at that time learned of the code and taught it to themselves independently. The braille code was used to pass messages back and forth that could not be deciphered by instructors! Braille was not officially adopted in the United States until after 1916 when English and American Braille became more standardized.

After more than 190 years, the braille system is just as relevant today as it was when students discovered it to be a liberating tool for communication in 1825. Today, many restaurants provide braille menus upon request, elevators and ATMs have braille printed on them, customers may receive bank statements and invoices printed in braille, and braille is increasing integrated into the latest technology. Apple devices such as the iPhone, iPad and Ipod Touch will all connect out-of-the-box to a braille display wirelessly! Electronic, portable braille note takers such as the Humanware BrailleNote and APH BraillePlus have been available for many years for reading and managing information in braille. Braille is taught in public schools around the country, most often by a Teacher of the Blind and Visually Impaired (TVIs), and to adults by Vision Rehabilitation Therapists (VRTs).

For more resources on Louis Braille and the braille alphabet, check out the following links:

The Braille Page is a good, easy-to-read starting point for learning about braille, including the alphabet, some baille contractions, and a brief biography of Louis Braille;

The War of the Dots Robert B. Irwin is a comprehensive account of the competition between competing literary communications systems using dots, such as New York Point and American Braille;

Learn Braille in One Lesson is a video explaining the basic braille alphabet. It is part of a much larger series of videos on braille at that includes grade 2 Braille and Nemeth code;

The Good Causes Show Braille in the 21st Century video is a recent discussion of Braille with an emphasis on what is found in the UK of the show include braille printing, technology and the relevancy of braille today;

Braille Comes Unbound from the Book is an article that describes Apple’s use of Voice Over and a Braille displays;

Factors That Contribute to the Success of Blind Adults is a research article describing the importance of braille as a criteria for determining  and achieving ‘success’ for an individual who is blind or visually impaired;

Forbes article about Braille in the Digital Age. This article highlights  the low number of Braille Users and the cost of technology;

Listening to Braille in the New York Times Magazine

Please leave a comment, email your idea for #31DaysofBraille to lowvisiontech at tweet to @lowvisiontech or post something at the Low Vision Tech Facebook page

Day 3: 31 Days of Braille

Day 5: 31 Days of Braille



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