fingers feeling brailleBraille Literacy Month

Most of us have heard about the Braille system of raised dots that enable a visually impaired person to read. We’ve all seen them on elevator operation panels and outside rooms in public places. However, most of us probably know little about how the embossed system came to be in existence.



It all started in France in the early 1800's, not by Mr. Braille, but by Charles Barbier. Napoleon had a problem during his war crusades. Many of his men were getting killed after darkness fell when they would light a lamp to read military communications. The small lamp would give their position away to enemy forces and death would soon follow. Charles, in an effort to save lives, developed a writing system using twelve raised dots so that the messages could be read without the aid of a lamp. However, the code's raised dots represented sounds, not letters and were very difficult to read with a finger, so the idea was ultimately rejected.

Here Comes Braille

A few years later, Louis Braille, also from France, injured his eyes in a tragic accident in his father’s leather-working shop. Doctors were unable to save the little boy’s eyes and blindness became a permanent part of Louis’ life. About age ten, Braille began studies at the National Institute of the Blind in Paris. After meeting Charles during a visit by Barbier to the Institute, Louis began re-working Barbier’s system to make the dots less cumbersome and easier to use in a six dot formation representing letters instead of sounds. He spent about eight years developing the Braille system which he published in 1829.

Coming to America

According to some reports, Braille was adopted by the Missouri School for the Blind in 1860, allowing people with visual disabilities in America to use the system.  


Louis Braille’s system is still used today in the basic form he developed. Over the years some word contractions have been added as well as specific dot formations for common words. This saves a lot of space in Braille books allowing the publications to use less paper. However, since the 1960’s Braille literacy has declined.

Braille code is still an important part of accessibility for a visually impaired person. At least one major study showed that the employment rate for people who have the ability to read Braille is significantly higher than those who cannot. The advent of new technology over the past decade or so has greatly increased the ability for blind people to integrate into everyday life like never before. Computers and devices with screen and optical readers are improving. Global positioning systems that enable a person to navigate across town and warn of obstacles around a person are just the tip of the iceberg in what is coming in the future.




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