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

The Evolution of Braille

A man sitting at a table reading Braille.

Written by Meredith Snellings, Early Intervention Specialist in CVI's BEGIN Program

January is Braille Awareness month, a perfect opportunity to learn a little more about the history of braille, how it is used today and what the future may hold for this form of adapted literacy. Braille serves to minimize the barriers that individuals who have visual impairment and blindness face when gaining access to literacy; it is a foundation of literacy and independence as it opens doors to the vast quantity of literature available for those who cannot access regular print materials. Braille materials are produced by a number of organizations such as the American Printing House for the Blind, National Braille Press, and can be accessed by individuals and educational specialists.

Braille is a tactual code that was invented by Louis Braille, a French man, in 1829. The Braille code was adapted from a night reading system that had been implemented during the late 1700’s battles for soldiers to safely read correspondence at night time without turning on a lantern and thus compromising their safety. The earliest attempts to emboss letters and create tactual reading systems contained some flaws described by French philosopher, Pierre Villes as, “talking to the fingertips with the language of the eyes” (Mellor, 1998). Written language is designed in a manner that is conducive to visual processing, but tactual reading is more efficient in a cell by cell linear progression of movement. Louis Braille simplified the night reading system to the six-dot braille cell, assigning a letter to each combination of filled in dots as an answer to his frustrations about lack of access to literacy as a young adult after he had been blinded at the age of five in his father’s workshop. The resulting braille reading code has been a system that evolved over the following 20 years after Louis Braille introduced it, but was not recognized officially by France until 1852, after Braille’s death.

Braille remained relatively unchanged from 1932 to the 1990’s when the braille community began to recognize the changing needs of braille users and efforts to adapt the code began. The need for a unified braille code was founded to address the need to produce braille in a more cost-effective manner and create a system of code that is more compatible with a greater variety of resources and audiences from countries that began to use slightly different versions of the code. The results produced the Unified English Braille code (UEB), one that is easier to translate, faster to learn, and easier to teach. Changes were made over a series of years to convert materials and education to the new system and was finalized around 2007.

Braille code has proved to be a dynamic means of literacy that signifies independence for a population of individuals who might otherwise struggle for access to employment and economic dependence as well as everyday living enhancements that visual print readers can readily access. To some, braille may seem like an outdated form of literacy; but in terms of modes of communication, for those who use keyboards and technology have not abandoned the pen and paper entirely in favor of more technological outlets. Braille remains relevant and is complementary to newer forms of literacy that are also used in conjunction with the code. Braille is in essence a foundation and bedrock to literacy and can continue to support the growth and access of individuals who rely on it for communication and independence.

There are a number of resources for obtaining braille resources and compilations of these resources can be found at http://www.aph.org. Organizations housing materials for the blind include the American Printing House for the Blind, AFB- American Federation for the Blind, and NIMAC, an independent project funded by the US Department of Education. With the important efforts to unify Braille code and legislation that supports the production of materials to students whose primary mode of literacy is braille, there is greater access in a timelier fashion to the materials needed. Trained specialists and teachers of the Visually Impaired remain a scarce resource, and the field of visual impairment has also made concentrated efforts to recruit and train new professionals to assume the important literacy work that these specialists do.

References:

Mellor C.M., (2006), Louis Braille: A touch of genius, National Braille Press, Boston.

https://brailleworks.com/braille-resources/history-of-braille/

http://www.iceb.org/ICEVI2006_UEB_Paper_Jolley.htm