Louis Braille (1809 – 1852), a French student and himself a blind person, was the first to devise a method which enabled blind people to read and write, in 1824. This system was based on the principle of creating raised markings on paper to make them recognizable by touch, and was used by soldiers in the French army to read combat orders at night.
This concept was developed by Charles Barbier, a French army officer. According to this method, every character (letter or digit) is represented by six dots (organized in 2 columns of 3 dots each), with its own distinctive pattern of raised dots. The cell pattern enables one to distinguish between the different characters. 63 fixed sized characters are used to represent the alphabet, numbers and punctuation marks. Unlike in the case of visible printed text, font types and sizes cannot be altered.
Nowadays, at the beginning of the 21st century, there is a growing trend towards increasing the number of dots in the Braille system from 6 to 8, in order to increase the number of possible characters that can be represented by one cell. Sheets of paper used for Braille have to be thicker than ordinary paper, so that the raised Braille letters will be clear and durable. For this reason Braille books are usually very thick.
The Braille system varies from one language to another, although as cited above, French was the first
language for which it was used. Languages with the Latin alphabet system share the same Braille alphabet system. Nevertheless each language adds some supplementary characters to correspond to the additional letters and common letter combinations found in that specific language. In non-Latin languages, such as Hebrew, Arabic and Russian, most of the letter codes were adapted according to their resemblance to the tonality of the English language or to another common Latin language. The Hebrew Braille characters are adapted to the English Braille system and therefore are read from left to right. The current goal is to create a unified international Braille system, mainly in order to allow the use of mathematical and musical signs and computer programs.
Most blind people do not know how to read and write using the Braille system because they lost their sight as adults. It is estimated that there are about 600 Braille readers in Israel, comprising some 120 students and 480 adults.
Retrieved from "Medicine and Anatomy", Ynet Encyclopedia.
Dr. Rami Arieli and Varda Shilo, "Interacting Systems", published by the Weizmann Institute