World Braille Day 2023: What is braille and how does it work?

Braille is an alphabet so can be used by many different languages  (Alamy/PA)
Braille is an alphabet so can be used by many different languages (Alamy/PA)

Blindness and vision impairment affect at least 2.2 billion people on the planet, according to WHO, all of whom face different daily challenges from those with 20-20 vision.

Despite advances in technology and accessibility one reliable tool that has aided the visually impaired for hundreds of years is still around: braille. And the UN-recognised day to celebrate the written alphabet will come around again in the new year of 2023.

So what is the history of braille?

What is braille?

Braille is a tactile system of reading and writing for the blind and visually impaired – not a language but an alphabet.

The alphabet is formed by raised dots, which can be punched on paper or adhered to a page. Each letter has a particular formation and number of dots to be traced instead of read with the eyes.

It originated from a 12-dot military cryptography code used for nocturnal communication in the battlefield.

Louis Braille, the eponymous inventor, simplified the system to six dots used to signify letters and punctuation. There are 64 symbols in total. There is also a shorthand braille that shortens common and familiar words.

Numbers and scientific terms are included in a completely separate system call the Nemeth code.

When is World Braille Day?

World Braille Day falls on January 4 to honour the birth of Louis Braille in 1809, not far from Paris. In 2023, this is the first Wednesday of the year.

In 2009, Braille was celebrated for his bicentennial anniversary while World Braille Day is celebrated yearly to commemorate his achievements.

What is the history of World Braille Day?

Although Braille was blinded around the age of five and began developing the system from 12 years old, his work was only revealed to his peers in 1824 when he was 15. His system not only simplified letters but also reduced them in size.

Unfortunately he was met with resistance from teachers at his institute who worried braille would put sighted teachers out of work but at age 20 Braille published his own book on his methods for words and music at the National Institute for Blind Youth.

He died aged 43 before the Royal Institute began teaching braille but it is now used worldwide to display different languages.

In the context of education and freedom of expression, braille is a vital tool, which is reflected in the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2006.