A Brief History Of Braille

Once a slow and complex invention designed for communication by the military, Braille has become an efficient way for those with visual impairments to communicate; all thanks to a French student named Louis Braille. The journey from raised letters to 6 dots is a fantastic story of how a blind student was eager to communicate in the most efficient way possible, and is celebrated annually on World Braille Day on 4th January.

“Braille” began as a system of reading for the blind, where you would run your fingers across written letters of the alphabet, but this proved to be inefficient. It wasn’t until the early 1800s when Charles Barbier answered the call from Napoleon, the French military leader that Braille really began to take shape. Napoleon wanted a way for his military units to communicate without speaking and without using torchlight at night, and Barbier got to work on finding a way to make this possible.

Charles Barbier had previously attended a lecture on Polybius, the Greek historian who had created the Polybius square, which allowed it’s users to transmit messages by using torches to signify columns and rows of a grid. Barbier knew he could utilise this invention and he came up with his own square, which was decoded by a system he referred to as Sonography. In order to use this system, often referred to as “Night Writing”, you would cut in to paper using a knife to indicate the placement of the letter or combination of letters that you are trying to use. These were in the French language and deemed impractical for use by Barbier’s superiors when presented to them.

Despite this set back, Barbier perfected his system and took it to the Royal Institute for Blind Youths in Paris, which was the first school of its kind in the entire world. Barbier gave lectures to the children, explaining how to use Night Writing by using a blunt stylus to create impressions to be read. However, his system was onlyphonetic; you were unable to use punctuation or symbols and could not even precisely spell all French words. A young student that had been to one of these lectures simplified the system by arranging them in such a way that every letter of the alphabet and all symbols could be produced by hand, and efficiently read by touch. This student was named Louis Braille, who spent nine years developing this system allowing blind people to communicate effectively and efficiently. Louis had been blinded in both eyes as the result of a childhood accident and infection, and he intended to access knowledge so that blind people could be treated as equals; through finding an efficient form of communication.

Braille was adopted by France as the official communication system for the blind in 1854, a year after Louis passed away. Braille was introduced to Britain in 1861, and was eventually adapted to the English language in 1902, but not adopted as the official way for English, blind people to communicate until 1918.

If you are looking to make a difference to children in Kent with special educational needs then visit our jobs pages for the latest roles.

Are you looking for some teaching inspiration? Find out how Early Years Teacher, Ann-Marie found out that you can make maths 'simples' just by using simple objects. 



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