The Braille system is a method that is widely used by blind people to read and write. It was devised in 1821 by Louis Braille, a blind Frenchman. The Braille characters are made up of six dot positions arranged in a rectangle containing two columns of three dots each.
Including a subset when dots are not raised, there are sixty-four possible subsets. The positions on the grid are number 1-3 from top to bottom, on the left, and 4-6 from top to bottom on the right. Horizontal Braille text is separated by a space, much like visible printed text, so that the dots of one line can be differentiated from the Braille text above and below. There is a unique set of characters for punctuation in Braille.
Charles Barbier created a method of communication in response to Napoleon’s code that soldiers could use to communicate silently and without light at night. It was called night writing and the Braille system is based on it. However, this system was to complex for soldiers to learn and was rejected. Barbier met Louis Braille, in 1821, at the National Institute for the Blind in Paris, France. Braille figured out that the failing of the code was that the human finger could not encompass the whole symbol without moving and therefore could not move rapidly from one symbol to another. This is when Braille created the 6 dot cell, the Braille system, which revolutionized written communication for the blind.
Braille can be seen as the first binary encoding scheme for representing characters and symbols of a writing system. There were two parts to Braille’s system which were composed of the character encoding for mapping characters of the French language to the six bits and a way of representing six-bit characters as raised dots in a Braille cell.
Now various Braille codes are used to map character sets of different languages to the six bit cells. There are 63 possible combinations although some are omitted because they feel the same. Some Braille characters have different meanings based on their context; therefore, character mapping is not one-to-one.
There are a few ways to produce Braille. It may be done by using a slate and stylus in which each dot is created from the back of the page. It may be done by hand, by Braille typewriter, or by a Braille embosser attached to a computer. It can also be done using refreshable Braille display.
For Braille embossers, the system has been extended to an 8-dot code. The additionally dots are added at the bottom of the cell making it two dots wide by 4 high. This allows the case of an individual letter to be directly coded in the cell. The first four dots represent the first ten letters of the alphabet and the digits 1 through 9. Adding dot 3 forms the next ten letters while adding dot 6 forms the last six letters.
50% of legally blind school-age children in the U.S. could read Braille in 1960. However, in 2007 only 10% used Braille as their primary reading medium. There are many reasons for the decline in Braille usage including school budget constraints, technology advancement, and differing views on how the blind should be educated.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 moved thousands of children from specialized schools into mainstream public. Since only a few public schools could actually afford to hire and train Braille-qualified teachers, Braille literacy has declined. Since then advocacy groups have pushed for legislation mandating that blind children be given the opportunity to learn Braille.
Learning Braille early is crucial to the literacy of visually impaired children. Studies have shown that learning Braille early allows for children to be better than sighted peers in several areas. In an adult study the unemployment rate of the members of the blind community who learned to read by print was 77% while it was only 44% for those that knew Braille. Braille has statistically been proven to allow children to enter the workforce later in life. Many younger people are turning to electronic text on computers with screen reading software instead of Braille. There is a debate now on how to make Braille more attractive to the young and for it to be more readily available for teachers to teach it.
Since Braille characters are much larger than their printed equivalents the use of Grade 2 Braille is employed in order to reduce space and speed during the reading process. To transcribe Braille a transcriber must pass a certification test. There are various rules governing the process of contracting a word. . For example, the character with dots 2-3-5 (the letter “f” lowered in the Braille cell) stands for “ff” when used in the middle of a word. A problem can occur when reading Grade 2 Braille because some of the contractions are closely similar. This can cause great confusion between words that are not as similar in normal print and can hinder the learning process of Grade 2 Braille.
The contraction rules take into account the linguistic structure of the word; thus, contractions are not to be used when their use would alter the usual Braille form of a base word to which a prefix or suffix has been added. Sometimes the rules are not clear and the decision relies on the judgment of the transcriber.
Grade 3 Braille is almost shorthand of sorts, including additional contractions. It is not used for publication but for personal convenience of individuals. One skill a Braille reader must learn is to create smooth even pressure when running one’s fingers along the words. There are many different techniques for understanding Braille; however, one technique is not superior to another. It is emphasized that readers finish reading the end of a line with the right hand and to find the beginning of the next line with the left. Sometimes children have difficulty using both hands independently where the right hand is the dominant hand.