Q&A: Why are people celebrating World Braille Day?

People and organisations have clamoured to mark World Braille Day on social media, pushing the phrase into Twitter’s top trends.

The day celebrates the birth of Louis Braille, the French schoolboy who created the system that bears his name.

He was born on January 4 1809.

How does Braille work?

The Braille alphabet works on a six-dot code. Different combinations of raised dots indicate letters, punctuation and numbers.

There are also signposting markers which tell a reader that either a capital letter or a number is coming next and advanced forms which include more sounds and contractions.

How was Braille invented?

Louis Braille, who lost his sight after an accident and then infection, invented the system as a teenager while at a school for blind children.

He was inspired by a communication called “night writing” devised by Captain Charles Barbier of the French army. It allowed soldiers to communicate on the battlefield at night without speaking or needing light.

In 1854, Braille’s system was implemented by the Royal Institution For Blind Youth in Paris, two years after his death.

How has Braille been used in the UK?

Person reading Braille (XiXinXing/Getty Images)
(XiXinXing/Getty Images)

A Braille code for English was not adopted until 1932.

The Braille used in English-speaking countries changed in 2016. The old code – called Standard English Braille – was replaced by Unified English Braille, which is used by the UK, the US and Australia as well as other English-speaking countries.

The change came in gradually, partly to allow for children who had learned the old code to take exams in it.

Some of the changes updated punctuation marks, indicators for bold and italic text, and the removal of contractions such as “o’clock”.

It also includes more mathematical signs, removing the need for special codes in different subjects such as maths and some relaxation of the rules around contractions.

Where is Braille used?

Person reading Braille (portokalis/Getty Images)
(portokalis/Getty Images)

Nowadays, Braille has to be included on the front of medicines. Tactile markers are even featured on the new £10 note to allow blind and partially sighted people to identify different values more easily.

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It is becoming more common to see, or more correctly, to feel, Braille on buttons in lifts and cash machines, on the doors of public toilets, food packaging, toiletries and cleaning products.

On cleaning goods, Braille is no longer used to just issue a warning but contains information about what the product is.

It’s not just practical items which are available in Braille. Board games often come with Braille versions – from tactile draughts, backgammon and dominoes to a giant version of Boggle for partially sighted people and Braille Scrabble.

How is World Braille Day being marked?

As part of events on World Braille Day, the EU Commission tweeted a message of congratulations to Kristina Tsvetanoa, from Bulgaria, who created the first tablet computer for blind users.

Other organisations, including the RNIB, shared details about how they use Braille, or offer Braille resources.

Happy World Braille Day.

Web editor