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Written Communication for and with the Blind

By Finn Orfano

Although one tends to think about Braille first when talking about script for the blind, there are other methods too. Learn about Barbier, Moon and Braille.

Barbier and Braille

The history of the Braille script is quite interesting. Originally, Charles Barbier de la Sierra, who was a Captain in the French army in the early 1800, was commissioned by Napoleon to develop a code which would allow his soldiers to communicate at night and without the use of light. The result was Barbier's night writing which made use of squares in which a 2 digit code represented a letter. However, the system was too difficult for the soldiers to learn and read and subsequently, Barbier presented his invention at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris in 1821.

Louis Braille, who was a student there, was interested in the system but detected its shortfalls and had some suggestions for improvement. One of the difficulties was, that the fingers could not "read" without moving and so it took a long time to decipher a word. The imperious Barbier didn't take kindly to the suggestions of a young student, but nevertheless, Braille's script for the blind became the most widely used method of communication with and for the blind to this day.

Braille Sysetm

Initially, the Braille script consisted of boxes or cells, made up of six dots. The dots were arranged in a rectangular position with two columns containing three dots each. The dots were raised and the fingers exploring them would decipher letters of the written alphabet arranged in words. The words were separated by space and punctuation was expressed by a unique set of characters. Braille was written by a stylus, pressed into the back of paper in mirror fashion.

With the arrival of typewriters and, later, computers, the 6 dot system has been expanded to 8 dots and Braille embossers can be attached to computers. Constriction of words to make reading faster is also in use, so that common words are no longer spelled out letter by letter. The Instruction Manual for Braille Transcribing is a big volume which contains all symbols and contractions for professionals transcribing text into text for the blind. They are highly trained and skillful people. Braille alphabets, symbols and contractions have been developed for all languages and the Braille script is now the most widely used form of written communication for the blind outside the UK.

Moon Alphabet

In 1845, Dr. William Moon from Brighton in the UK, who turned totally blind at the age of 21, invented another form of script. He wasn't satisfied with the existing system which he found too difficult to read. His alphabet is based on geometrical symbols rather than dots. The symbols, which are also read by touch, either resemble letters of the Latin alphabet or represent words and numbers. His alphabet when first published attracted great interest and it's said that his method is easier to learn and read particularly for people who have had use of their eyesight before they became blind. It's however much more difficult to transcribe and has not found widespread use outside the UK.