In 1809, on January 4, Louis Braille was born. At age 5, the curious boy was blinded in an accident with one of his father’s tools. However, Louis refused to let his disability stop him from getting the most of life. As a teen at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris, he self-advocated by developing the system of writing that, to this day, bears his name. In his honor, the 4th of January has been declared World Braille Day.
Braille’s alphabet consists of a series cells containing, in a 2 x 3 grid, as a raised dot or a blank space. Though there are only six dots or spaces, they can be combined in 64 different ways, allowing for other characters, including letters from the alphabets of other languages. In other words, braille is not a language, but a code for transcribing many other languages. Nowadays, there are two main types of braille: Grade 1 and Grade 2. Grade 1 is a functional letter-by-letter transcription of text. Grade 2 uses combinations of letters in a single braille character, allowing for much shorter documents; it is the most widely accepted form of braille.
Braille provides access to written communication for blind people, in other words, accessibility beyond physical means such as access ramps. In other words, braille is a form of inclusion, allowing everyone to participate in an important aspect of society, regardless of their disability. In creating the braille system for reading and writing for the blind, Louis Braille was advocate and self-advocate for people with disabilities par excellence. And for his part in developing the braille writer, Louis Braille was also one of the great assistive technology specialists of all time.
“Access to communication … is access to knowledge, and that is vitally important for us if we [the blind] are not to go on being despised or patronized by condescending sighted people. We do not need pity, nor do we need to be reminded we are vulnerable. We must be treated as equals—and communication is the way this can be brought about.”