Braille: A Dotted History

Posted: 08/10/2014 | ,

Braille is a code by which all languages may be written and read. Through its use, people who are blind or visually impaired can read the written word.

In our technological 21st century, it can be argued that Braille is becoming a less relevant tool for visually impaired and blind people. However, over 150 million people worldwide continue to use Braille for a multitude of reasons.


The strongest case for the importance of Braille is linked to the ‘literacy argument,’ in which advocates state that Braille allows users to learn spelling, punctuation, and gain an understanding of how text is formatted on the page.


Audio books provide an excellent additional resource but listening is not synonymous with reading and studies show that students who can read Braille tend to acquire higher literacy rates on average.


Braille is made up of dots which represent the letters of the print alphabet with symbols for punctuation marks and a system of contractions and short form words to save space, making it an efficient method of tactile reading.


It is not a language, Braille is a code by which all languages may be written and read and through its use people who are blind or visually impaired can read the written word.


Image of Louis BrailleLouis Braille is credited with inventing Braille. Born in France near Paris, in 1809, he was just three when he accidently poked his eye with a sharp awl in his father's harness making shop which resulted in an infection that spread to both eyes and caused total blindness.


He attended his local school until 1819, when he was awarded a scholarship to the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris. While there, Braille experimented with ways to make an alphabet that was easy to read with the fingertips. He started by working on a reading code with a special tool he developed called a slate and stylus.


In 1824, just 15 years old, he developed the 6-dot Braille system from the tactile "Ecriture Nocturne" (night writing) code invented by Charles Barbier de la Serre in response to Napoleon's demand for a way for soldiers to communicate silently at night and without light.


Louis Braille died just two days after his 43rd birthday in 1852. One hundred years later, in 1952, his accomplishments were finally recognised by the French Government and his body was exhumed from the village cemetery in his home town of Coupvray and reburied in the Pantheon in Paris, with other French national heroes.  However, the Mayor of Coupvray insisted on having Braille’s hands removed and buried in the village cemetery.


At the Royal Blind School pupils start to learn Braille by strengthening their fingertips. Students play with items such as macaroni and peas in a tray and try to sort them using their fingertips. They then progress to learning Braille taught by their teachers, printing their own stories on Brailling machines. As teenagers they progress to Braille notebooks that are a really fast and professional means of writing and transcribing Braille.