Sightseeing. A periodic tour of CVI news, views and events.

The Beginning and Continuing Usage of Braille

January is observed as National Braille Literacy Awareness Month to honor Louis Braille, creator of the braille code - a method of reading and writing for the blind. As a child, while playing with tools in his father’s leather workshop, the knife he was handling slipped, puncturing his eye which eventually led to total blindness. Louis enrolled in a school for the blind in Paris in 1819. He developed into a fine musician during his youth and longed for a method of reading and writing musical notes and lyrics independently. At that time, raised Roman letters were used in books for the blind which could be read but not written.

Picture of the braille alphabetIn 1824 a raised dot code for sending messages in the dark was invented by an artillery captain; which was just the breakthrough Louis had anticipated for creating a touch system of reading and writing for the blind. He managed to narrow the code down from twelve to six dots which was the perfect size to fit under the ball of the finger. Louis also used an inexpensive device to record the letters, numbers, music symbols and more. His system became worldwide and is still being used today--over two centuries later. This raised six-dot code was named after its inventor and thus called Braille. Since his invention, other symbols used for science, math and foreign languages have been added.

Picture of an iPod and braille typewriter side by sideAlthough many perceive Braille as a dying art, it is alive and thriving, thanks to the world of technology! Rather than taking the place of Braille, electronic devices are enhancing the code and boosting the usage of braille even more. There are numerous devices with the capacity to include Braille, as well as separate refreshable Braille displays which can be connected to the computer, the iPhone, iPod and more.

Students enrolled in the Braille classes at CVI are excited to learn of all they are able to do with Braille once they can read it. They not only learn to read and write it the traditional way using a brailler and slate and stylus; but also with use of electronic Braille devices. These devices can be put to use as soon as the letters, punctuation and numbers have been learned. For most students, it is challenging to tackle reading Braille independently once the course has been completed. Whenever hurdles arise during homework time, they can be tackled in class the next day with the assistance of the instructor; but when the classes end and there is no assistance with problematic words or phrases, Braille is put on the back burner, and then forgotten.

Annie Maxwell with a client working on brailleIn order to bridge the gap between that of scholar and independent Braille user, a Braille Club has been established at CVI, consisting of new Braille readers as mentees and long-standing Braille users as mentors. The club meets monthly with in between reading assignments where mentors assist mentees over the phone or in person. The assigned articles are also pre-read on CD’s by volunteers so that the mentee can listen beforehand. Each meeting begins with a discussion of the assigned article – what were the problems confronted, the solutions, and suggestions for making reading the next assignment easier.

The main objective of the Braille Club is to establish a sense of confidence in the new Braille reader so that he/she continues to use it in everyday life. It acts as a bridge between finishing the course and operating as an independent user without difficulty. Although there are books on tape, electronic, computerized, and in other formats, nothing will ever take the place of direct reading for oneself. These means are only substitutes and cannot stand up against the real thing, - Braille. So we say thank you Louis Braille for creating a code that not only provides literacy; but opens the door of education, employment and inclusion in society.

Are you a braille reader? If not would you like to learn more? Annie demonstrates how to get started in this YouTube video.