" There is a wonder in reading Braille that the sighted will never know: to touch words and have them touch you back." ~ Jim Fiebig
Louis Braille (Jan. 4, 1809-Jan. 6, 1852) improved a coded system of raised dots used by the blind to read. He was blinded as a child, and invented his extraordinary system in his early teens. In 1829, Braille published "The Method of Writing Words, Music, and Plain Song by Means of Dots, for Use by the Blind and Arranged by Them." His method, called Braille, is still in use around the world today. Louis Braille is buried in the Pantheon in Paris, as a French national hero.
Braille's main purpose was to assist the visually impaired with the logistics of reading and writing. Braille also carries strong ties for the hearing impaired. Braille was first introduced into this world in 1821, by a Frenchman, named Louis Braille. Braille, himself, became blind at the age of 3 after being punctured by his father's awl. A short time later, Braille became completely blind in both eyes due to sympathetic opthalmia, an inflammatory condition developing as a result of trauma to the eyes. Louis Braille's system, which outdated all previous systems, was composed of a six dot cell system.
Cell is the penned name for a braille character. Each cell is arranged in a rectangular shape containg two columns, with each column containing a series of three dots, to together form a six dot cell system. A total of sixty-four characters can be produced from using a standard Braille alphabet.
Even though Louis Braille was the first penned inventor of the Braille System, numerous other individuals came before him with similiar ideas regarding "silent communications." Charles Barbier created a system similiar to Braille's. His "motive," so to speak, for creating such a system came during Napoleon Bonaparte's rule in France. Bonaparte demanded a "silent code" be developed to be used at nighttime when no light was available for communications amongst one another. His system, which paralleled Braille's in many aspects, consisted of two columns made up of twelve dots to represent one character, compared with Braille's system of two rows containing six dots. This meant that to interpret one Braille character, a series of twelve dots would have to be analyzed. His system was very complex and wasn't adaptable for use by the soldiers during war times. Due to the complexity of the system, it was quickly deemed "useless" during this time.
The Braille system was in one word, revolutionary, for visually impaired individuals. Before the development of braille writing, blind individuals had no satisfactory means of written communication. Learning through oral teaching was quite difficult and limited, and the majority of blind individuals received little or no education. If there families were wealthy, they would probably be protected and eventually live on a pension; but blind children from poor families might even be turned out into the streets.
Even though the braille system was revolutionary, it had its drawbacks. The braille cell only offered sixty-four possible combinations of letters. To top this all off, many of the combinations were so similiar that they were easily misinterpreted to mean different things than what was written. The Braille system focused on the use of contractions to ease in the overall writing and reading process.
The top four dots of the braille cell represent letters "A" through "J." The third dot is added to characters "A" through "J" to create the letters "K" through "T." The two bottom dots, or in other words, three and six, are added to the characters "A" through "E" to create letters U,V, X, Y, and Z. The letter "W" was never included in the traditional Braille alphabet, as the first Braille alphabet originated in France, where there was no use for the letter "W." No words incorporated this letter in Louis Braille's alphabet.
Braille is read by moving the hand or hands from left to right along each line. Although most readers read predominantly with one hand, just as individuals write with a dominant hand, both hands are usually employed in the reading process, and there are two-handed readers who can make strong use of the second hand. Reading is most often done using the index finger, but the middle and ring fingers can also be used. The average reading speed is about 125 words per minute with one hand, and over 250 words when using both hands.
Braille varies throughout the world. The United Kingdom never incorporated capital letters into their Braille system, compared with the English alphabet which employs the use of capitalization and punctuation. Capitalization and punctuation are created by using a prefix character, such as one of the ones illustrated below. Braille has been translated into nearly every language from its original form and is being used all of the world.