Braille is a method of reading and writing used primarily by the blind. Devised in 1821 by Louis Braille, the system is made up of characters (or cells) of six dots arranged in the shape of a rectangle that contains two columns of three dots each. The dots are raised at any of the six positions to form 64 different combinations. In some combinations, no dots are raised. The dots from top to bottom on the left are numbered 1-3, and the dots on the right from top to bottom are numbered 4-6. The horizontal line of dots is separated by a space (like visible text), so the dots of one line can be differentiated from the Braille dots above and below. Punctuation marks have their own set of unique characters.
The history of how Braille came to be is quite interesting. While Louis Braille is credited with the system as we know it today, it was originally devised in response to Napoleon Bonaparte’s demand for a code that soldiers could use to communicate silently and without light at night. However, the system created for Napoleon by a man named Charles Barbier was much too complex for the soldiers and was immediately rejected. Barbier later met Louis Braille, who modified Barbier’s system, and a practical and easier form of communicating was created for the blind.
Today’s Braille system has codes for shorthand, mathematics, and even music. Braille may be produced by using a slate and stylus, or it may be produced by using a Braille typewriter (or computer). Since its inception, Braille has been extended to an eight-dot code. With the eight-dot code system, there are 256 possible combinations.
In 1960, approximately 50% of legally blind children were able to read Braille. In 2007, there were approximately 58,000 legally blind children in the United States, but only 10% use Braille as their primary reading tool. Some of the causes of the decline in the use of Braille include:
Passed by Congress, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs that receive Federal funding. This Act moved thousands of children from schools for the blind into mainstream public schools. Braille literacy rates have slightly improved since the passage of the Rehabilitation Act because advocacy groups have pressured 27 states to pass legislation to require legally blind children to be provided the opportunity to learn Braille.
It is currently estimated that of the 85,000 blind adults in our country, 90% who are fluent in Braille are employed. Among the adults who do not know Braille, only one in three is gainfully employed.
If you or a loved one is going blind and would like to learn more about Braille and other resources for the blind, please contact an experienced ophthalmologist in your area today.