[b]Birth of the Braille—from Napoleon’s Army to the Age of Technology[/b]
Amongst the tall grass, a soldier scrutinized his surroundings, senses primed to pick out the faintest sound or hint of movement. He unraveled a letter he had recently received, instructions from his superior he assumed. With another furtive glance about him, he lit a lamp, and began to read. He hadn’t noticed the man who was surveying the grounds for potential targets. The soldier’s lamp, faint as it was, served as a beacon, a beacon bright enough to draw the fire of a waiting sniper…
This scenario was the reality for many soldiers in the 1800s, including comrades of Charles Barbier, an artillery officer in Napoleon’s army. He was thus inspired to construct a code system that employed the use of touch instead of the use of sight. He created a coordinate system where a phonetic syllable would be represented by a configuration of dots. The dots were on a 2 by 6 grid, and would be punched into the page by a blunt stylis. However, due to the amount of dots that represented some of the phonetic sounds, they were hard to decipher, and thus too complicated for military use..
However, he saw promise in the design to aid the blind. He offered to teach it to children at the National Institute of the Blind in Paris. There, it was mastered and improved upon by 12 year old Louis Braille. He had been blinded at the age of three while playing with his father’s leatherworking tools. His parents aspired to raise him like they would a sighted child, contrary to convention. He studied at the local village school like his sighted peers and was the head of his class due to his mental aptitude. He received a scholarship to the National Institute of the Blind. He found Barbier’s methodology as revolutionary albeit flawed; it was certainly superior to the dominant Hauy system. By this system, letters would be raised so they could be traced over with a finger. Not only was this a time consuming process, but books written in this way were cumbersome, and expensive. Furthermore, there was no way for the blind to write.
Barbier’s system had 2 major flaws: first the human finger couldn’t move from one symbol to the other in rapid succession due to the 12 dot grid. Second, BarbIEr’s system couldn’t render the orthography of a word as the dots represented sounds. Braille amended this by using a combination of raised dots in a grid of 6 to represent letters. His system was mostly completed by 1824, when he was only 15, and in later years, , and in later years he would refine his system to include symbols for punctuation, mathematical notation, and musical symbols. This system further allowed the blind to write: by punching holes through the back of the page.
Louis Braille was a testament to advocacy in the form of innovation for the disabled community. Braille allowed for a greater access to education: the ability to make correspondences, to take notes and revise them, to solve equations, and read sheet music. He understood that the problem lied, not with the limitation of blindness per say, but with the method of instruction. The target audience after all, was not sighted—so why enforce the language of the eyes on them? He helped many reach their full intellectual potential and showcased the possibilities literally at their fingertips.
Over-time, creating Braille texts became less tedious. Currently, the mission is to allow for the visually impaired to access all the benefits of the Age of Technology. Currently, the piezoelectric keyboard (which uses pressure to generate electricity, and allows the keyboard to function as a braille reader) is akin to the Hauy system of this era: bulky, expensive, and limited in functionality. Awakened by the realization of how the digital age leaves behind victims of sight loss, Kristina Tsvetanova was inspired to found Blitab, a tablet for the blind. According to the New York Times, Blitab has a touch screen where applications are selected via voice recognition technology on the bottom half, and a screen with a perforated grid with holes to facilitate reading on the top half. Blitab employs liquid based technology that creates tactile relief i.e. it creates a rising sensation under the users' fingertips. In this way, the ipad converts whatever is on the screen into braille. In 2007, there were approximately over 450 million people worldwide who are either blind, or severely visually impaired. This statistic is expected to triple by As it stands, due to a general lack of braille material severely limits educational and employment opportunities for the visually disabled.. However, with support in these areas of advancement, it can be possible to extend learning and bountiful prospects to all, regardless of impairments.
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