Braille System: Feel the Words


“The senses are complementary powers evolved in complex interdependence with one another. Each sense is a unique modality of this body’s existence, yet in the activity of perception these divergent modalities necessarily intercommunicate and overlap.”— David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (Vintage), page 56

The number of answers to a never-ending question “Why are we created?” may be infinite. Some might say that we were created to worship God. A scientist would tell you that we were created to discover the amazing secrets of our world, while a philosopher might say that we were created to think. No matter what the answer might be, we have to fully use the senses given to us by our Creator to observe, perceive and interact with our world.

Since all our senses are key to interacting with the world around us, losing one’s ability to use a particular sense may heighten the other senses, so the disabled can compensate by honing their other senses. It was alleged that those who were born blind performed better than those who became blind as young children, while those who lost their vision after the age of ten did no better than the sighted. The theory is that a young brain could be rewired so that visual-processing areas were used for other purposes.

At the age of three, an accident deprived Louis Braille of his sight, and he was sent to a blind school in Paris, where most instruction was oral and he learnt by listening only. Young Braille desperately wanted to read. He realized the vast world of thought and ideas that was locked out to him because of his disability. He was determined to find the key to this door for himself, and for all other blind persons.

While a student, Louis was very bright and creative; he began to use his creativity to invent an easy and quick way for blind people to read and write. He heard of a system developed by a French army captain, Charles Barbier. Barbier originally created a code of raised dots and dashes as a way to allow soldiers to write and read messages at night without using a light that might give away to their positions. At that time, the raised letters were made by pressing shaped copper wire onto paper, but there was no way for blind people to write for themselves.

Louis was hoping for a better chance for himself and the people like him, so he spent nine years developing and refining the system. He worked with Barbier’s basic ideas to develop his own simplified system that we know today as Braille. He based the code on the normal alphabet and reduced the number of dots by half. He published the first Braille book in 1829; and in 1837, he added symbols for math and music as well.

Although Louis Braille went on to become a beloved and respected teacher, and continued to believe during the value of his work, his system of reading and writing was not very widely accepted in his own time. Over time, there has been some modification of the Braille system, particularly the addition of contractions representing groups of letters or whole words that appear frequently in a language, which permits faster Braille reading, and helps reduce the size of Braille books, making them less bulky.

Today, the code named after Louis Braille, the great man who has overcome and transcended his own imparity changing the life of the visually impaired, is the standard form of writing and reading used by blind people in virtually every language around the world. 

*The article was published in the PSC Newslertter, 2nd School Semester 2010/2011.

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