Every year on 4th January the world celebrates the importance of Braille as a form of communication as ‘World Braille Day. On this date in 1809, Louis Braille, the creator of Braille, was born to an affluent family in the town of Coupvray, France. He was born with properly functioning eyes but completely lost his vision due to an accident in his father’s workshop at the young age of 5.
At the age of 10, Louis started attending the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris, where children were taught to read by a system devised by Valentien Haüy. This system was lacking in many aspects - the amount of information relayed through books written using this system was usually minor, those books were also uncomfortably bulky, laboriously crafted, very fragile and expensive, moreover, children had difficulty ‘writing’ themselves. Once he exhausted the school’s curriculum, Braille remained at the institute as a teacher’s aide and was later elevated to full professorship.
He was determined to find a better way of communication for visually challenged people, and slowly but surely developed the Braille system which is used widely to date. Braille was based on a military code called night writing, developed by Charles Barbier. This code, however, did not represent individual letters but phonetic sounds, could not fit under the pad of the reading finger and did not include characters for numerals or punctuation marks.
Between the ages of 13 and 16, Louis worked on perfecting an embossed dot system. At the age of 15, he had developed what is today known and used as Braille - a system based on a six dot cell, using which 64 combinations can be made and which can represent a letter, a number, a punctuation mark or even a whole word.
There are two forms of writing Braille - contracted and uncontracted. When every letter of the word is spelt out in Braille, it is called the uncontracted form of writing. The standard system for reproducing most publications and books is known as contracted Braille. Books written for young children are usually written in uncontracted Braille, while in contracted for adults. Braille is written using a slate and stylus, and produced by a machine known as Braillewriter, which, unlike a typewriter, has 6 keys, a spacebar, a line spacer and a backspace.
World Braille Day is a reminder of the importance of accessibility and independence for blind or visually impaired people. It spreads awareness about Braille and other forms of communication and encourages Braille literacy, which is an important factor in equal opportunities for blind people.