Because of Louis Braille, there is a standard reading system for those who are visually impaired. The system he created has not only made lives better by opening up the joys of literacy, but it has also helped to dispell hurtful myths. This is why EnableMart has chosen to highlight Louis Braille for Father's Day this year.
Evelyn J. Rex explains in her book, Foundations of Braille Literacy, that prior to the 18th century, visually imparied individuals were not considered capable of being educated. Denis Diderot and Valentin Haüy played important roles in changing these perceptions. Diderot published the results of his interviews with people who were blind and detailed how a blind woman was taught to read and write. Years later, Haüy experimented with education a young, blind beggar, which led to the first of many schools for blind children (16).
Learning to read at these schools proved difficult. Haüy's efforts resulted in the creation of books with raised letters and other styles of embossed books. However, these books were not only hard to read by touch, but they weighed around 9 pounds. Imagine trying to read or carry a book that heavy! Writing techniques of the time were equally tough to master. In his book, Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius, C. Michael Mellor explains that "riting techniques of the time were equally tough to master. To learn to write, a blind child at the school would hold a stylus – a metal rod with a rounded tip – and trace the shapes of letters engraved into a metal sheet. Once the student had learned to recognize and remember the sensations produced in the muscles, he or she was ready to try to replicate the letter shapes on a separate piece of paper with a pencil. Writing with ink was not feasible at all; the finger that detected the motion of her tip of the pen ended up smearing the ink. Furthermore, the writer could not be certain the ink was flowing" (53).
Although these schools for the blind helped prove that people with visual impairments are capable of being educated, they did little to help students gain employment. Mellor explains that "despite years of training and impressive public demonstrations of blind people nimbly performing various trades, the reality of employment for blind graduates was sobering. Writing anonymously for North American Review in 1833, Samuel Gridley Howe... speculated, 'How many of those who leave the institution at the expiration of their time are enabled to gain their own livelihood?' 'Not one in twenty' was his startling conclusion" (53).
What Howe didn't know was a 15 year old boy had come up with a system which would eventually pave the road to fixing many of the problems he contemplated.
In 1821, Louis Braille invented a raised-dot system for reading which is still used today. The Braille system allows the reader to recognize letters with simply running the tip of a finger over the raised dots. Before Louis Braille invented the raised dot system, blind readers would need to run their fingers over the shapes of letters, and take time to figure out which letter the shapes correspond to and remember the sequence while figuring out which letter the next shape represented.
- Mellor, C Michael. Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius. Boston: National Braille Press, 2006.
- Rex, Evelyn J. Foundations of Braille Literacy. New York: American Foundation for the Blind Press, 1994.