This blog post is brought to you by the IMAGE Center for People with Disabilities… and Braille. Why Braille? Because I’m using Braille to write it. In fact, as I consider my work, my volunteer activity, and my time as a student, I think it would be safe to say that I use Braille to do almost everything. Ask any other Braille reader, and they’ll probably tell you the same. So how does Braille work, why are these little dots so important, and why is its inventor’s birthday celebrated around the world every January 4 as World Braille Day?
The Basics of Braille
At its core, Braille is a system of 6 dots. Combinations of those dots make up all the letters of the alphabet, numbers, punctuation symbols, and other symbols required by the language in which Braille is being read. On a side note, this is why Braille is considered a code, not a language; it is based on a standard set of dots that can be adapted to fit any speaking or writing language being used. Its inventor was Louis Braille, a French teacher, writer and musician who was blind. His blindness in itself made his system unique in his field; since he was blind and not seen as an educational expert, his system was not widely accepted by his fellow teachers, though his students loved it. There are many interesting biographies of Louis Braille and books about the history of Braille if you want to take a deeper dive into that story.
Many Ways of Writing Braille
You might be familiar with the Perkins Brailler, the metal Braille writing tool that looks like a manual typewriter. There is also a slate and stylus, a small manual device that includes a flat slate with slots for the 6 dots of the Braille cell and a stylus with a point on the end to poke the dots into the paper. As technology has become more advanced, more options have become available for reading and writing Braille. Most notably, refreshable Braille displays and notetakers allow blind people to read and write in Braille electronically, either in files stored on the device or by connecting the display to a computer or phone. In fact, I’m using one of them to write this blog post.
Celebrating World Braille Day
When you see a sign with Braille dots on it, or a person reading Braille from something that looks like a tablet, we invite you to take a moment to celebrate the man who opened the doors of knowledge for blind people by inventing a code for them to read efficiently and independently. Happy birthday and thank you, Louis Braille!