A blind eleven-year-old boy took a secret code devised for the military and saw in it the basis for written communication for blind individuals. Louis Braille spent nine years developing and refining the system of raised dots.
The original military code was called night writing and was used by soldiers to communicate after dark. It was based on a twelve-dot cell. Each dot or combination of dots within the cell stood for a letter or a phonetic sound. The problem with the military code was that the human fingertip could not feel all the dots with one touch.
Louis Braille created a reading method based on a cell of six dots. This crucial improvement meant that a fingertip could encompass the entire cell unit with one impression and move rapidly from one cell to the next.
Over time, there has been some modification of the Braille system, particularly the addition of contractions representing groups of letters or whole words that appear frequently in a language. The use of contractions permits faster Braille reading and helps reduce the size of Braille books, making them less cumbersome.
Braille is read by moving the hand or hands from left to right along each line. Both hands are usually involved in the reading process, and reading is generally done with the index fingers. The average reading speed is about 125 words per minute, but greater speeds of up to 200 words per minute are possible.
Most of all, blind individuals can have access to a wide range of reading materials including educational and recreational reading and practical manuals. Equally important are the contracts, regulations, insurance policies, directories, appliance instructions and cookbooks that are part of daily adult life. Also, through Braille, blind people can read materials such as music scores, hymnals, playing cards, Scrabble boards and other games.