Reading By Touch

"There is nothing more absurd, I think, than to have five or six different prints for the blind..." wrote Helen Keller. She would help change that.

English Braille primer

English Braille primer. Courtesy of Perkins School for the Blind Archives.

June 1, 2018

Helen Keller was born in 1880, just over 50 years after Louis Braille published his eponymous writing system. Braille, who was three when an accident in his father’s workshop left him blind, had been frustrated by the reading system available to him at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris: embossed Latin letters. Tracing the text was a slow process, and the books were so huge and expensive to produce that few existed. Moreover, the system did not offer a realistic way for a blind person to write.

Braille understood that the blind needed access to the same information as everyone else if they were to be treated equally. Determined to facilitate that transfer of knowledge, he began working on his own system, inspired by a code of dots and dashes created for soldiers by a French Army captain. Braille was just 15 when he completed his alphabet of raised dots, produced using a slate and stylus. His invention was met with praise from some corners, and consternation from others. At one point, school administrators confiscated Braille’s writings and burned them; they wanted their students to use raised lettering because the teachers couldn’t read Braille’s dots.

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