Braille (Alphabetic Writing System): Uses, History, and More


Not everyone has the gift of sight, but thanks to the braille system of touch writing and reading for blind persons, it is possible to communicate and understand without seeing effectively.

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Braille involves the use of raised dots to represent each letter of the alphabet. This writing methods also contain symbols that are equivalents for punctuation marks and offer symbols to show groupings of letters.

Braille is read by moving your hand or hands-on material from left to right along individual lines. The reading process, in this case, usually involves the use of both hands, and the index fingers are generally left to do the reading.

For people reading braille, the average reading speed is measured to be about 125 words a minute. However, higher speeds of as much as 200 words a minute are possible.

By making use of the braille alphabet, individuals who are blind can efficiently study and review the written word. People can also become aware of the different written conventions like punctuations, spelling, footnotes, and paragraphing.

Most importantly, braille offers blind individuals a chance to try a wide range of reading materials such as financial statements, recreational reading, educational reading, and even restaurant menus.

Equally important are regulations, directories, contracts, cookbooks, and insurance policies that are all part of normal daily adult life. With the aid of braille, people who are unable to see can also pursue cultural enrichment and hobbies with materials such as hymnals, music scores, playing cards, and even board games.

Several other methods of reading had been attempted over time to enable people who can’t see to reading. However, many of the techniques were raised versions of the regular print letters.

It is generally accepted that the reason for the success of the braille system is because it is based on a sequence of signs that are rationally devised for the fingertips, rather than mimicking signs that are designed for the eyes.

Charles Barbier’s “Night-Writing”

Braille is not a medium of writing that started recently. In fact, the history of braille dates all the way back to the early 1800s. A man called Charles Barbier, who was serving in Napoleon Bonaparte’s French army, created a unique style known as “night writing” so that soldiers could safely communicate during the night.

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As a military veteran, Mr. Barbier saw how several soldiers got killed because they had to use lamps after dark when they needed to read combat messages. Because of the light shining from the night lamps, enemy combatants were able to figure out where the French soldiers were and that inevitably caused the loss of many men.

Barbier based the creation of a “night writing” system on an elevated 12-dot cell; each was two dots wide and six dots tall. Individual dots or combination of dots within a cell represented an alphabet or a phonetic sound.

The challenge with the military code at the time was that the human fingertip was unable to feel all the dots with a single touch.

Enter Louis Braille

Louis Braille, who this method of writing was named after, was born in the village of Coupvray of France on the 4th of January, 1809. He lost his sight at a very tender age after he stabbed himself in the eye accidentally with his father’s awl.

Mr. Braille’s father was a successful leather-worker and used his awl to poke holes in the leather goods that he produced.

At eleven years of age, Braille was inspired to modify the “night writing” code created by Charles Barbier in an attempt to create an efficient system of written communication for fellow blind people.

One year prior, his parents had him enrolled at the National Institute of the Blind in Paris. Braille spent the better part of the nine years that follow developing and refining the writing system of raised dots that are now known by his name, Braille.

After all of the work done by Braille, the writing code was finally based on cells with half a dozen dots instead of 12. This crucial improvement translated to mean that a fingertip could encompass the whole-cell unit with a single impression and move quickly from one cell to another.

Over time, the braille system was gradually accepted throughout the world as the primary form of written communication for people who were visually impaired. Today it remains mostly as he invented it with no significant kind of adjustment or changes.

However, there have been many small modifications to this system or writing, particularly the introduction of contractions that represent groups of letters or full words that frequently appear in a language.

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The use of contractions in braille writing permits faster reading. It also helps to shrink the size of braille books, making it possible for them to be carried easily and less cumbersome.

Braille had done the bulk of his work before he passed away in 1853 at 42 years of age, a year before France his home country finally adopted braille as its’ official medium of communication for blind people.

A few years later, in 1860, the braille writing system made its way “across the pond” all the way to America, where The Missouri School finally adopted it for the visually impaired in St. Louis.

Legacy of Braille Benefits Millions

Louis’s legacy of Braille has enlightened the lives of many people who are blind. Because of this, blind individuals from all over the globe everyday benefit from Braille’s work. Today, people transcribe braille code in many languages all around the world.

Louis would be pleased to know that his creation has become responsible for the literary of countless numbers of people over the years. Consequently, people who are unable to see can enjoy all that written in print, just like everyone else who can see.

The effect of this creation is tremendously empowering and is helpful to them as they succeed in school and their careers.

Over the last century, several groups have been put together to help standardize and modify the braille code. To find the latest news and improvements on braille, you can visit the Braille Authority of North America (BANA).

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