Braille: Hand Reading

Having suffered a crushing defeat in the Crusades, the king returned to Paris with the confidence that God was teaching his humility. With this faith, he founded the world's first blind shelter, Quinze-Vingts (in Russian, “fifteen points”). The first guests of the shelter were 300 knights blinded during the campaigns. Subsequently, the shelter served as a refuge for the homeless blind.

Embossed letters

Fair "St. Ovid's Fair ”was one of the most spectacular places in Paris. From August 14 to September 15, every year, street vendors, circus performers, puppeteers demonstrated their skills here. In 1771, a young man named Valentine Howie attends a fair and gives alms to a blind boy. To his amazement, the boy named the denomination of the coin. So Howie realized that the blind can comprehend literacy through touch. The 12-year-old beggar Francois Lezuier becomes his first student. Valentine taught him to read, first using embossed wooden letters from which he formed the words. Francois was a talented student and after 6 months learned to sense printed pages. Howie introduced the student to the Royal Academy, where his skill stunned pundits. So a relief-linear font appeared. People drove their fingers over convex (embossed) letters, stacked them into words and sentences. A revolutionary invention began to spread in the world. In 1806, Valentine Howie arrived in St. Petersburg at the invitation of Alexander I. Books were published in the St. Petersburg Institute of Blind Children founded by W. Howie: this was the beginning of the existence of the first library for the blind in Russia.

Simpler simpler and easier

The inventors, the followers of Howie, used a fundamentally wrong premise: "what is convenient for those who see, then what is convenient for the blind." According to the Howie system, it was necessary to “read” standard convex letters, which quite often had intricate outlines. Inventors primarily began to offer convex fonts with original or simplified letter styles.

In 1831, the Englishman James Gol introduced a corner convex font, which was used for some time in the shelter for the blind. Alston from Edinburgh proposed his own font based on the Latin alphabet. Alston's font is very similar to one of today's computer fonts - Arial.

Inventive thought did not stand still, and in 1838, Lucas offers original “squiggles”. This system is a kind of shorthand. Letters are chosen arbitrarily and consist of lines with a dot on one end or without a dot. The Lucas system has never been used for training.

Dr. Moon, in his 1845 font, tried to preserve the basic forms of the Latin alphabet. Its system was used at the beginning of the twentieth century. But despite the apparent simplicity of the outline, all existing systems had common flaws - too much time to read and the high cost of making books.

Revolution - from letters to dots

In January 1809, Louis Braille was born in the small French town of Couvre. As a child, he accidentally injured his eye with a saddle knife and went blind. In 1819, Louis enrolled in the Paris School for the Blind. The training was conducted on the books of the Howie system, very large and expensive. The school in Paris had only 14 such books, which Louis successfully studied, feeling each letter.

Howie's system was imperfect. It took several seconds to feel each letter, and when a person reached the end of the sentence, he almost forgot about what was in the beginning. Louis realized that he needed to find a way to read quickly and easily.

And again, the case helped. At that time, the French army used the original letter code of artillery officer Charles Barbier to deliver night messages. Messages could not be written on paper, because to read it was necessary to light a match, and therefore - to be unmasked. The letters were holes punched in cardboard.

Barbier Code

Reading such a letter was much easier than giant books with embossed letters. Louis mastered this method, but discerned its shortcomings. The army code was slow, and only one or two sentences were placed on the page, which was suitable for transmitting the enemy’s coordinates, but was absolutely not suitable for writing. The invention of Barbier gave Louis a creative impetus, and he created a system of embossed-point writing, which allowed writing down letters and numbers, chemical and physical signs. In 1824, he introduced a “cell”, consisting of two vertical rows of 3 characters each. This gave 63 combinations. Feeling each cell, a person can quickly and reliably recognize each letter. This, of course, is easier than to feel several lines of embossed letters of the Howie system.

“This can't be”

One great scientist said that each discovery or invention goes through 3 stages in its development. The initial reaction of others: "this is nonsense - this cannot be, because this can never be." Then - "there is something in it, " and then - "everyone knows that." Faced this and Braille. In 1829, he proposed his system to the council of the institute, but the council rejected it. The main argument was that the designed font is inconvenient for sighted teachers. Despite the disapproval of pundits, Braille introduces its own font. Among ordinary people, his system is becoming more and more popular, and in 1837 the council returned to its consideration again. This time, Braille received support.

They tried to ignore Braille’s invention, then tried to rework them to no avail, but in the end it was universally recognized that the Braille writing system for the blind was the best. Braille also creates a special writing device (resembling a punch), which, with minor modifications, has come down to our time. In Russia, the first Braille book was published by A.A. Adler in 1885.

Louis Braille died on January 6, 1852 and is buried in the hometown of Couvre. In May 1887, a monument created by the famous French sculptor Leroux was unveiled in the Louvre.

New time, new technologies

Modern displays for the blind operate as follows. Braille cells are located in a row. The text is converted into signals, some of the rods in the cells are advanced, a person runs a finger across all the cells and reads the words. These displays weigh more than a kilogram and cost more than $ 2 thousand. The question arises - have the devices reached their peak of development or can new solutions be found?

The main disadvantages when working with braille are the low speed of reading text and the inability to communicate in real time. Progress in creating more and more advanced communication methods is on the way to increasing the speed of recognition of letters. First there were relief-linear fonts (convex letters Howie). They were replaced by relief dot fonts (Braille). Possible next step: one point - one sign.

Reflecting and experimenting, the author noticed one interesting feature of human perception. If 6 points are placed on each phalanx of a person’s fingers, then when pressing on individual points with, say, the tip of a pencil, a person will be able to say exactly where it happened. This means that by placing 6 pressure elements (for example, micro-solenoids) on each of the 4 fingers (large for one important reason not counted), you can get only 72 elements, and the arrangement of the keys can correspond to the location of the QWERTY keyboard (standard keyboard layout of a computer or typewriter). Elements can be placed on a glove or in fingertips, and instead of pressure elements, use thermal elements or weak electric discharges.

Input Output

Of course, using the glove just for information is not profitable. Pressure elements can also be used as buttons. Then with the same glove it will be possible to enter information into the computer by pressing the corresponding buttons with the thumb. And we get an adaptive keyboard, where the buttons themselves, located on the fingers, move towards the thumb. This will reduce the amplitude of the movement of the fingers. This, in turn, will reduce the time a key is pressed, because both fingers will move in a coordinated way towards each other.

Equipping gloves with a simple speech synthesizer or display can solve the communication problem for the mute and deaf. Unlike standard devices, the glove is small, easy to use and can be connected with various information input / output devices.

Inverted Braille

Another idea is to stay with the well-known blind braille, but make the letters “run”. Using the "glove" technology, it is possible to make a fingertip, consisting of a braille matrix, and sequentially submit letter by letter. Thus, reading will be carried out. You can also place 2 braille elements on 4 fingers. The advantages of the proposed device input-output information:

- low weight and dimensions;

- ease of use;

- adaptability;

- the ability to work in a variety of poses (ergonomics).

What's next?

The possibilities of connecting television cameras directly to the ends of the optic nerves are being investigated. The first positive results were obtained, but this technology is only in the testing phase and can be applied to a limited number of people, so that tactile devices cannot be dispensed with. Scientists go further in their research. So, a group of Krishnakutti Satya from Emory University investigated the work of the brain of the blind when they read texts printed in Braille. Scanning the experimental brain, scientists found that when palpating letters with the fingers, the visual centers of the brain work - and in the same way as people who read text with their eyes. A magnetic resonance scan of their brain at that moment showed that the visual centers are as active as the tactile ones. What this means is still unclear, but the fact is very interesting.

The article was published in the journal Popular Mechanics (No. 2, February 2004).


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