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Published: March 31, 2011


A system of reading for the blind, using raised dots as symbols for each letter. Developed in France in 1824 by Louis Braille (1809–52), the characters were derived from a “point writing” system, using embossed dots and dashes for coded army messages.

Braille alphabet and numbers (TeleSensory, Mountain View, Calif.)

Blind at the age of three, Braille was sent as a foundling to the National Institute for the Young Blind in Paris. After developing into an accomplished organist and cellist, Braille returned to the institute to teach. At the time, only 14 books existed for the blind, all of them in embossed alphabetical characters that few blind people ever learned to master.
Braille characters are based on a configuration of six large raised dots referred to as the braille cell. To help children learn the system, he numbered each position of the cell as follows:
(1) . . (4)
(2) . . (5)
(3) . . (6)

Each character in the alphabet is formed by removing one or more dots from the basic configuration, thus allowing the reader to distinguish each from the others by the number and position of the remaining dots. The first 10 characters serve as both letters and numerals—that is, a, 1; b, 2; c, 3; etc., through j, 0. In addition to the 26 letters of the alphabet, a separate character serves to indicate a capital or upper case letter and a second separate character indicates whether the character that follows is a numeral or a letter. In 1942, a machine called a braille writer was developed to produce braille mechanically.
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