In 1824, Louis Braille introduced a tactile code to access reading material. Two hundred years later, his name is synonymous with the tactile code utilized by people who are blind and visually impaired worldwide. Braille enables users to read with their fingertips “using a system of six raised dots.” January 4, 2024, the 215th anniversary of Louis Braille’s birth in 1809, marks the international celebration of World Braille Day. Each January is also commemorated as Braille Literacy Month. These occasions serve to highlight and increase awareness of the importance of braille and literacy for people with visual impairments. Since the new year also marks the 200th anniversary of the inception of braille, it is a notable time to recall its introduction.
The development of braille can be traced to a visit to the Institute for Blind Youth in Paris by Charles Barbier, a French army artillery captain. Barbier had created a system for soldiers to communicate at night without sound, using 12 dots to represent sounds and calling it “sonography.” He introduced his invention to the Institute, believing it “could be of great value to the blind.” Louis Braille, a student, identified one of the main “flaws of Barbier’s system in addition to its complexity: it was based on the 36 sounds of the French alphabet and did not lend itself to punctuation.” Braille took on the task of improving upon Barbier’s work. His new code also used raised dots, but otherwise it was Braille’s original creation. He used six raised dots to make a braille cell arranged in two parallel rows, each with three dots. One cell can represent an alphabet letter, numbers, punctuation mark, or an entire word. At the age of 15, he shared the system with his mentor, Dr. Pignier, who then encouraged Institute students to use it. With the code, “they were able to achieve a level of literacy previously unavailable to them.” Despite some setbacks in its use, the demonstration of the braille code at the dedication of the Institute’s new building in 1844 is “often said to be the day Louis Braille’s code…was accepted by the world.” Eventually the code Louis Braille devised as a teenager spread worldwide. A congress meeting in Paris in 1878 officially adopted braille as the “international system used for writing by the blind.” Even so, multiple systems of embossed writing continued to be used for several years. In 1917, the U.S. agreed to adopt a braille standard and in 1932 a “uniform code was accepted by English-speaking countries around the world.” Today braille is used around the world in many languages.
Today and Into the Future
Braille continues to be used widely today. Every day people who are blind use the tactile code for “everything from shopping lists to labels for canned goods,” to reading books and “solving math and science equations.” The increasing availability of braille “makes it easier for blind people to get around” in public building, hotels, universities, and many more sites. It has also been incorporated into technology, through devices like the refreshable braille display that make the script “more portable and adaptable.” One example of technology advances and braille use is the development of “a multi-lined Braille display that can reproduce both braille and tactile graphics.” A combined effort has been launched among the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), and HumanWare “to make this dream a reality.” This Dynamic Tactile Device (DTD) is expected to be able to show ten lines of braille simultaneously.
Read more about braille, its creator, and the January commemorations from: American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) webpages, beginning with one recalling that Braille Invents His Code; NFB’s webpage entitled “Celebrate World Braille Day;” Paths to Literacy’s blog about how to Celebrate Braille Literacy Month!; and the Guardian article on Magic touch: how ‘revolutionary’ changes are making braille better than ever.