Braille is a code which enables blind people to read & write. It was invented by a blind Frenchman, Louis Braille, in 1829. Braille is comprised of a rectangular six-dot cell, with up to 63 possible combinations using 1 or more of the 6 dots. Braille is embossed by hand (or with a machine) onto thick paper, & is read with the fingers moving across on top of the dots.
Braille is used by blind people whose vision is sufficiently impaired that they cannot ordinarily read print. Braille is the only reliable method of literacy for blind people because it enables them to read & write & can actually be substituted for print in most circumstances. Blind people use Braille in the same ways that sighted persons use print.
The Story of Louis Braille
Most people use to think that blind people could never learn to read and that the only way to read was to look at words with your eyes.
But Louis Braille thought otherwise. Blind from the age of 3, he desperately wanted to read. He realized the vast world of thought & ideas that was locked out to him because of his disability; but he was determined to find a way for him & for all other blind people to read.
Louis Braille was born in 1809, in a small village near Paris. His father made leather goods to sell to the other villagers, so his father often used sharp tools to cut & punch holes in the leather.
One of the tools he used to makes holes was a sharp awl; a tool that looks like a short pointed stick, with a round, wooden handle. While playing with 1 of his father's awls, Louis' hand slipped & he accidentally poked one of his eyes. At first the injury didn't seem serious, but then the wound became infected. A few days later young Louis lost sight in both his eyes. The first few days after becoming blind were very hard.
But Louis learned to adapt & learned to lead an otherwise normal life. He went to school with all his friends & did well at his studies. He was both intelligent & creative & he wasn't going to let his disability slow him down.
As he grew older, he realized that the small school he attended did not have the money & resources he needed. He heard of a school in Paris that was especially for blind students. Louis didn't have to think twice about going.
When he arrived at the special school for the blind, he asked his teacher if the school had books for blind persons to read. Louis found that the school did have books for the blind to read.
These books had large letters that were raised up off the page. Since the letters were so big, the books themselves were large & bulky. More importantly, the books were expensive to buy, so the school only had 14 of them.
Louis set about reading all 14 books in the school library. He could feel each letter, but it took him a long time to read a sentence. It took a few seconds to reach each word & by the time he reached the end of a sentence, he almost forgot what the beginning of the sentence was about.
Louis knew there must be a better way. There must be a way for a blind person to quickly feel the words on a page. There must be a way for a blind person to read as quickly & as easily as a sighted person.
That day he set himself the goal of thinking up a system for blind people to read. He would try to think of some alphabet code to make his 'finger reading' as quick & easy as sighted reading.
Then 1 day somebody at the school heard about an alphabet code that was being used by the French army. This code was used to deliver messages at night from officers to soldiers. The messages could not be written on paper because the soldier would have to strike a match to read it.
The light from the match would give the enemy a target at which to shoot. so the alphabet code was made up of small dots & dashes. These symbols were raised up off the paper so that soldiers could read them by running their fingers over them. Once the soldiers understood the code, everything worked fine.
Louis got hold of some of this code & tried it out. It was much better than reading the books with gigantic raised letters.
But the army code was still slow & cumbersome. The dashes took up a lot of space on a page. Each page could only hold 1 or 2 sentences. Louis knew that he could improve this alphabet.
On his next vacation home, he spent all his time working on finding a way to make this improvement.
Louis sat down to think about how he could improve the system of dots & dashes. He liked the idea of the raised dots, but could do without the raised dashes.
As he sat there in his father's leather shop, he picked up 1 of his father's blunt awls. The idea came to him in a flash. The very tool which had caused him to go blind could be used to make a raised dot alphabet that would enable him to read.
The next few days he spent working on an alphabet made up entirely of 6 dots. The position of the different dots would represent the different letters of the alphabet.
Louis used the blunt awl to punch out a sentence. He read it quickly from left to right. Everything made sense. It worked...
The basic braille symbol/cell is composed of 6 dots arranged in 2 vertical columns, each column being 3 dots high. These dots are numbered as follows:
1 o o 4
2 o o 5
3 o o 6
Because this pattern produces only 63 one-cell symbols (plus the blank cell, which is used as a space), some symbols have multiple meanings, & many symbols which take only 1 character in print require more than 1 cell in braille.
There are at least 4 different braille codes currently used in the U.S., & the use of a particular code is dependent upon the type of material being transcribed. These codes are Literary Braille Code, Nemeth Code, Computer Braille Code (CBC), & Music Braille Code. Other codes are under development, some of which require the use of 8 dots and/or other raised symbols. DotsPlus is 1 such system.
In addition, there are differences in the codes used in various English-speaking countries, especially in mathematics, thus inhibiting the exchange of braille materials. There is currently an attempt underway to produce a Unified Braille Code (UBC) which would eliminate some of the problems of both producing & reading braille.
In instances where symbols are used that might not be familiar to the reader, transcriber's notes and/or lists of symbols are included to explain their meaning.