Embossing before Braille: A “Did You Know” PSA

Did you know…

Page from ''Essay on the Education of Blind Children'' by Valentin Hauy

Page from ''Essay on the Education of Blind Children'' by Valentin Hauy (1786). Translation of the excerpt is as follows: Essay on the Education of Blind Children. Chapter 1. Aim of the Institute. Before providing an explanation of our Institute.... Image and translation via American Foundation for the Blind.

…that before Louis Braille brilliantly invented Braille, a condensed adaptation of a popular military form of communication in the battlefield called “night writing,” humanitarian and founder of the Royal Institution for the Young Blind in Paris (now the National Institute for the Young Blind), Valentin Haüy, had actually developed the first way to teach reading and writing to the blind.

Haüy had become particularly passionate about aiding the blind after witnessing the cruel and viscious teasing of an ensemble of inhabitants from the Quince-Vingts hospice for the blind by townspeople during the religious street festival “Sant Ovid’s Fair.” The blind were given dunce caps and oversized cardboard glasses and told to play their instruments, which resulted and a raucous cacophony of noises.

Haüy opened the world of written language to the blind by adapting the technique of embossing to a more permanent quality. Through embossing, text was raised on the paper and pressed against copper wire to retain their shape. This method was costly and time consuming to make, so publishers would put together in large volumes a collection of stories in a single volume binding to save on cost. This made the books quite heavy, sometimes weighing over a hundred pounds.

Haüy’s school had just three of these massive tomes of published works. Louis Braille read all of them.

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