January, designated as Braille literacy month, is a month dedicated to recognize Braille as a fundamental form of written communication, and celebrating Braille as an important tool for literacy. This year marks the two-hundred-year anniversary of the invention of Braille, a tactile writing system that transformed the lives of people who are blind or partially sighted. As we are celebrating this milestone, lets delve into the progression and relevance of Braille in today's society.
Evolution of Braille
Louis Braille once said “Braille literacy is equal to print literacy, and literacy is what makes people equal."
Before Louis Braille invented Braille, people who are blind relied on "second hand knowledge" as reading and writing was nearly impossible. The Braille system gave the gift of literacy to millions of people who are blind or partially sighted.
First, people who are blind used only uncontracted Braille, a direct representation of the printed text where each letter of the alphabet and each punctuation mark is represented by a unique Braille symbol. However, producing Braille materials was time consuming and took a lot of space. This situation lead to the birth of contracted Braille, which involves the use of abbreviations and word signs to make Braille more efficient and shorter. It is now the most commonly used Braille code.
Besides the standard literary code used for reading and writing text, the Braille system has evolved. Specialized Braille codes have been developed in order to keep up with the evolution of print materials and technology:
- Music Braille: Music Braille is a specialized code used for representing musical notation. It allows people who are blind to read and write music, including notes, rhythms, and other musical symbols.
- Computer Braille Code: The Braille Authority of North America (BAUNA) developed a specific computer Braille code that is used for representing computer-related symbols and commands.
- Nemeth Braille: The Nemeth Braille Code is a specialized Braille code for mathematics and general science. It includes symbols and notations specific to these subjects.
- Chemical Braille: Chemical Braille is a Braille code used for representing chemical symbols, formulas, and equations.
Methods of producing Braille have been also developed over time. First, Braille learners used hand writing frames, where each dot was painfully punched out. Then, slates and stylus, and Braille typewriters such as Perkins were made. Then, a variety of Braille printers, software tools, and Braille displays were created to help Braille readers convert electronic materials to Braille faster.
Is Braille still relevant today?
Braille is a critical tool for literacy.
Braille allows people who are blind or partially sighted to read and write, helping them to develop literacy skills that are essential for education and employment. It allows children who are blind to learn the basic rules of writing and reading, including spelling, grammar and punctuation, in such a way that auditory learning cannot convey. It helps them understand how text is formatted on a page and increases their ability to engage with it.
Braille promotes independence
Braille allows people who are blind or have vision loss to make notes, to reference materials, and label the computer keyboard. It also facilitates mobility through wayfinding signage among other uses. It eliminates the need to seek assistance to accomplish basic tasks such as reading personal tax returns when it can be delivered in Braille form. Being able to label everyday items in the home increases one's independence.
Technologies have introduced electronic Braille, granting Braille users access to a large variety of materials through devices such as a BrailleType, a single-touch text-entry system for touch screen devices allowing those who are blind to enter text as if they were writing Braille manually.
In today's world, people who are blind also enjoy the benefits of smart Braille watches. They use small Braille cells to display time, date, and other information on a user's wrist. They provide a discrete way to be aware of the time.
The Braille system is also used to communicate unlimited types of information. For example, the haptic chair could communicate to a blind person when the person opposite them is smiling or angry, and could instantly translate non-Braille text into sensations that translate into Braille bumps.
Also, Blind Maps, a navigation device that syncs to a user’s smart phone, provides indications on the route through a Braille-like interface.
The 200th anniversary of the Braille system is not just a celebration of a great invention, it is the celebration of its transformative power.
As a person who is blind, I cannot imagine how I would have been able to pursue my studies in science without using Braille. Paired with technology, the Braille code will continue to be an important tool to grant people who are blind access to a wide range of content, contributing to greater accessibility and inclusion.