Braille History

Mike Hudson, director of the Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind, presented on the history of braille, from 1784 to the modern day, and why we still use it.

September 5, 2019

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Audio Transcript


Embracing Braille – Braille History

Presented by Vileen Shah

September 5, 2019

Vileen S.: I would like to welcome you all, and we have our guest speaker, Mr. Michael Hudson with us. We are so much privileged to have the director of the Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind with us to speak about braille, why we use it. And also, he will tell us a little bit about the museum that he leads, and also a little bit about the American Printing House for the Blind. Michael Hudson has a master's degree in history, and he will correct me if I say something a different. He has been doing this for nearly 30 years, but he has been with American Printing House for the Blind since 2005.

That's a good 15 years of experience with the museum, with the blind world, if I can say that word. And that's certainly for us to feel proud that we have the director of the museum to talk about braille. Over to Mike.

Michael Hudson: Thank you, Dr. Shah, very much. I'm really pleased to be here with everyone today. The museum here at the American Printing House of the Blind has been open for 25 years. This is our 25th year. We collect the history of literacy, and learning, and rehabilitation for people who are blind or visually impaired. If you grew up with a visual impairment in the United States, you're probably very familiar with the American Printing House. 1839 Frankfort Avenue, Louisville, Kentucky, was probably stamped on just about everything you used while you were in school. The Printing House has been around since 1858, and originally created just to make books and raised letters, and gradually grew into textbooks in braille, textbooks in large type, books; audio books. Of course we call them talking books. And since really about the 1880s, 1890s, we started making all kinds of educational aids.

We started out making tactile maps, but today we make hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of different types of educational aids, varying from braille writing tools to electronic devices like talking calculators, and refreshable braille displays, and portable video magnifiers. We make products for math, and science, and physical education, and every one of the core curriculum subjects that people study. And we make all kinds of products for what's called the expanded core curriculum. Things that kids who are blind study that sighted kids don't. And we also have all kinds of other services that we provide. We recently been getting more and more into products for adult learners and adult rehabilitation. The Printing House is today the largest maker of educational products for people who are blind anywhere in the world. Last year we made about 18 million pages of braille. 18 million pages.

Vileen S.: Wow.

Michael Hudson: About 12 million pages of large type, and we recorded probably about 600 titles down in the recording studio. Most of that work is done for the National Library Service. The Printing House is just this amazing place, and since the 1930s, we have been doing tours of the factory. We still today tour thousands and thousands and thousands of people through the building every year. In '94, we created our museum. Our museum collects all of the stuff, right, that has been used traditionally to educate people who are blind or visually impaired, and then also all kinds of rehabilitation products. Think books and raised letters, all kinds of historical braille materials, all kinds of historical educational aids. We have a huge collection of braille writers from all around the world; Australia, Europe, the United States, Great Britain, Japan, Asia, India. We have braille writers from all of those places.

We have probably, gosh, 300 braille slates. If you've ever used a braille slate and a stylus, we have just about every braille slate ever made. We have dozens of different stylus shapes. We have all kinds of electronic things. The beginning of electronic braille embossers, refreshable braille displays, printing presses. We have all kinds of electronic equipment that was used back in the '60s and '70s to begin the computer translation of braille, or the computer transcription process. All those materials came from largely IBM, a project between IBM and the American Printing House. We have all kinds of orientation and mobility materials. We have historic long canes going all the way back to the 1930s, and the white cane safety laws into World War II when Hines VA Center emerges there, and basically the US Army and the military invent modern orientation and mobility.

We have the first dog harness worn by Buddy, that was Morris Frank's dog, the first dog guide that came out of Seeing Eye. So we just have this amazing bunch of stuff. We have a copy of Louis Braille's first publication, the Procédé, The Method, that he published in 1829. We have our most recent exhibit that we just put up has the desk that Helen Keller used to write all the many amazing things that she wrote between 1947 and 1968 when she died. We have that on exhibit right now. So we just have amazing amount of materials from all of the historic residential schools, to public schools, to the way that kids are educated today. That's our museum, and if you come here, you can get a tour of the factory, see how all this stuff is made, and then end up getting to come up to the museum and look at a lot of different stuff. Our museum is a little bit different than your typical museum.

Lots of things here to touch, a lot of cases open up so you can put your hands in and look at things. There are a lot of things outright on the reading rails. Our labels are in braille and in large type and in audio. And so, we try to make our museum as accessible and as user friendly to all of our guests as we can. As you might imagine, being the kind of museum we are, we know a little bit about the history of braille. It's kind of a long-convoluted story. You would think it would be simple, but it's actually quite complicated. And some of you may be familiar with some of what I'm going to tell you. It may be almost like your family history, or family folklore, but some of it may be new.

I'm definitely going to tell you a few new things that we've only recently learnt that make the story even more interesting, I think. It starts way back in 1784 in France, in Paris. That's where the founder of education for the blind in the world, a man named Valentin Haüy starts the first school for kids that are blind. He has one student. His name is François Lesueur. Occasionally, Dr. Haüy will get a fancy embossed envelope in the mail. He has a side job as a translator for the King of France. It's François' job… Remember, this is Dr. Haüy's only student. He has one student in his school, and he's experimenting on François trying to figure out how you can teach kids that are blind, and François has to go out and pick up the mail. Every now and then, he notices that when Dr. Haüy gets one of these embossed envelopes, his fingers are sensitive enough to feel the letters. Of course, he can't read them, but he knows they're there.

That gives Haüy the idea to invent a way of embossing the letters into the paper. Basically, what they would do is, he had a special font of letters made on little metal types, and by setting those up in a frame, you could take that, put it into a printing press, wet the paper, and then press the type against the paper hard with a lot of pressure, and that would cause the letters on the other side of the paper to raise, and François was able to learn how to read that way. And so, in one fell swoop, Dr. Haüy has licked this problem of literacy for people who are blind, and he begins publishing entire books. He published the first book in raised letters in 1786, and that book was called… We call it the Essai. It's Essay on Education for the Blind. That was the first book ever made that a person who's blind could learn to read. It was a eureka moment.

Now, raised letters were not perfect. Not everybody had fingers sensitive enough to feel the letters, and there was no way to write to them. So, although we would use raised letters for more than a century after we invented them, it was not the perfect system. So then we come up to 1809, that's when little Louis Braille is born in a village outside of Paris called Coupvray. His dad was a harness maker, and when Louis was a very small child, somehow or other, he got into his dad's tools, the sharp tools his dad had for cutting leather and he cut his eye somehow. And of course, health care back then, they didn't understand anything about germ theory or even about eye surgery, the way the eye was even constructed. And so Louis' eye got infected, the infection spread to the other eye pretty quickly. By the time he was about five or six, he had lost all of his vision.

But he was a smart little kid, and he lived in the only country in the world that had a school for the blind there in Paris, Dr. Haüy's school, and Louis was admitted there to what was called the Institut Royale des Jeunes Aveugles, or the Royal Institute, is what we're going to call it. He started school there in February of 1819. He was a very good student, quickly was one of the best students there at the school. In 1821, when Louis was about 12, a man named Charles Barbier sent a dot code that he had invented over to the school to be looked at. Okay? Now, there is a familiar story that is often told about Charles Barbier, that we are now starting to realize is mostly false. What I'm going to give you now is the true story that what we're learning from a lady… a Canadian researcher named Philippa Campsie.

Philippa has been over in Paris, just reading and transcribing lots of letters from Barbier, Charles Barbier, that she has been able to find in various archives there, and it's totally changed our understanding of the way this happens. Now, the familiar story is, is that Barbier is a soldier who's ordered by Napoleon to invent a code that you can read in the dark. All of that is now… we understand is now false. Barbier was a soldier in France in the 1780s, and in 1789, during the worst of the French Revolution, he had to flee France. A lot of aristocrats had to flee France because basically they were getting their heads cut off. And so, he ends up settling in Lexington, Kentucky, here in my state, where he lived in Lexington. He was teaching French, and serving land, and doing a little lawyering.

And eventually, in 1802, Napoleon did offer an amnesty to all of the former aristocrats and he let them come back to France, and Barbier goes back to France. But he never rejoins the French military, and he never does any work directly for Napoleon. But Barbier is interested in codes, and he's invented a lot of different codes. One of the codes he's invented is this idea of dots; raised dots on the paper. He's not sure how the code is going to be used. It might be useful for diplomatic communications, it's possible it could be used by the military, but what he really thought it might be useful for was for people who were blind. So in 1821, he sent this code over to the school. He didn't go over there himself. In fact, he didn't meet Louis Braille for many, many years. But a student there at the school for the blind in Paris had mastered the system, and he's the one that demonstrated it in the summer of 1821 to the other kids.

Louis Braille and his buddies love the Barbier code, because for the first time, they have a way to both write notes down, quickly, write messages to each other, and to read them very quickly. And of course, no one else in the school can read or write what they have written in this secret Barbier code, right? Imagine you're 12, and suddenly you have a way to write messages to each other and no one else can read them. Right? That's pretty cool, right? But even at the age of 12, Louis Braille immediately recognized that there were some weaknesses to the Barbier code. The Barbier code used 12 dots. And so, you had to scrub your finger up and down on those 12 dots to read each symbol. And of course, with 12 dots, that meant it was a lot slower to write. So, it was slower to write, slower to read. And Barbier had based his code on phonics; the way words are spoken, not the way they are spelled. So Louis sets out over the next three years to correct both those problems.

And by about 1824, he had the basic code that we still use today. Six dots based on the alphabet, a few punctuation marks, right? So then he, with the help of the headmaster at the school, a man named Pignier, Louis publishes his code for the first time in 1829. This elegant, easy-to-learn tactile code based on dots with a simple way to write. It also includes a system for music, simple math, and by the time he gets out his second edition in 1837, he introduces the idea of contractions; one symbol standing for a common letter combination. Now, his original system only had eight or nine contractions in it. You would think this… It's a beautiful system, it's elegant, it would have been immediately adopted worldwide, you'd be wrong. In fact, it wasn't even adopted at his own school and throughout France until 1854, two years after Louis had already died of tuberculosis.

So, the system begins. People who visit France, people who visit the school for the blind in France, and of course it's a very influential school, they begin taking it back to their own countries and experimenting with it. It appears for the first time in America in 1860. It's published by the Missouri School for the Blind in St. Louis, by their music teacher, a guy named Henry Robin. And the Missouri School for the Blind becomes the first school in the United States to experiment with braille. They start sharing it around to other schools for the blind. By and large, at this time, most of the schools for the blind are run by sighted teachers, and they are not fond of this dot code that they cannot read with their eyes, as you can imagine. But some of the teachers start realizing that the huge advantage that braille has over the raised letter systems that most of the schools for the blind are using is that it can be written.

And because it can be written, kids can take notes in class and they remember things much better when they take notes and write down things, and they do better in class. So a guy named William Bell Wait, in 1868, is the superintendent of the New York Institute for the Blind. He has messed around with braille a little bit and decides that, like the best Americans, he can make it better. Right? That's what we think we always can do in America, right? We can take other inventions and we can improve them. And so, William Bell Wait adapts this code that he claims will have all the advantages of braille, but none of its faults. And he was primarily concerned about space, about how bulky that the braille system was. His code was originally called Wait's Point, but it became more popularly known as New York Point.

He was very influential, and in 1871 at a meeting of the American Association of Instructors of the Blind, he was able to convince his fellow teachers and principals at these schools to adopt New York Point, and it would soon be widely used in American residential schools. Now in the meantime, the code had come over to Great Britain, and in Great Britain, they had a different reaction. They loved the original French code, but they also wanted to decrease its bulk. But instead of doing what Wait did, invent their own code, they used Louis' original code, but in Britain, the British and Foreign Society for Improving Embossed Literature for the Blind publishes a key to the braille alphabet and music in 1871, and the British Braille code was highly contracted. About 180-some contractions in their code [crosstalk]. And the British code would soon be used in most English-speaking countries.

Now, the American Printing House for the Blind, as I told you at the beginning of this, had been created in 1858 and was publishing its books in raised letters. But in 1875, after the AAIB had approved New York Point for use in the schools, we published our first New York Point book. Now a few years later, 1878, a teacher at the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, Joel Smith, this teacher is one of the few blind teachers at the Perkins Institute. And Joel Smith, he really likes braille. He prefers it, and he introduces his own modification of the braille code called Modified American Braille. Now, Modified American Braille basically used the same six dots that Louis' code did; Louis' Braille's code did, but it reassigned the symbols, so that if you could read Louis' French braille, you would not have been able to read Modified American Braille. The symbols were…it would feel the same under your finger, but the symbols had been totally reassigned. Now, Modified American Braille was going to be used by only a few schools in the US initially, but they were the most influential schools. Perkins, the Overbrook School in Philadelphia, the Michigan School, the school in St. Louis. So, you suddenly have all these competing systems. You've got raised letters, that's still being used a lot, you've got New York Point, and you've got now Modified American Braille. This period of competing systems becomes known as the War of the Dots. Now, in 1879, the US Congress passes a law, the Act to Promote the Education of the Blind. The act creates a fund that provides tactile books from the American Printing House for the Blind in Louisville, free of charge to kids who are going to residential schools for the blind all over the United States.

And because these free textbooks in New York Point are available from APH, most residential schools for the blind in the US go ahead and adopt New York Point. So, by 1880, 1885, New York Point is the dominant system in the United States. A few years later, 1890, Frank Hall is the Superintendent of the Illinois School for the Blind, and Frank wants to invent a machine, like a typewriter, to write New York Point. And New York Point is the style that's being taught at his school in Jacksonville, Illinois. But because the New York Point symbols are of variable width, and the shorter symbols, the symbols that took up less space, those were assigned to the letters we use a lot, like A and L and N, and the longer letters, the ones that might be up to four dots wide, those were assigned to the letters we don't use a lot, like Q and Z. Right? That was one of its space saving features.

But because it too was of a variable width, it didn't always take up the same amount of space, it was not really ideal for mechanization. And so, instead of developing a New York Point writer, in 1892, Frank Hall and this mechanic that he had recruited in his town named Gus Sieber, they invented the Hall Braille Writer. It was the first successful mechanical braille writer, and in 1894, Hall and Gus Sieber invented a stereotype machine. The stereotype machine would basically, instead of embossing braille on sheets of paper, it was a much heavier duty machine and it embossed them on brass stereograph plates. Plates that you could load into pretty much a standard printing press and mass produce braille. So the Hall Braille Writer, and the Hall Stereograph Machine, over the next 30 years dramatically gave braille a competitive advantage over New York Point and the other systems.

APH would emboss its first textbook in Modified American Braille in 1893, and our output book would grow steadily after that. By 1905, there is this big thick catalog from the American Printing House, and in it you can get books in raised letters, and New York Point, and Modified American Braille. It was a real mess. If you were a person who was blind back then and you went to a library, you would have to know at least three systems to know how to read all the books in the library. So, obviously, that system … that's intolerable. And so, two organizations set out to change that. The American Association of Instructors of the Blind, that's all the teachers, and the American Association of Workers for the Blind. Those are the people who run the industrial workshops, the state commissions for the blind, all kind of organizations, like Lighthouse for the Blind and that sort of thing.

They're organized into the AAWB. So the AAWB and the AAIB get together, and they found in 1905, the Uniform Type Committee. That committee's goal was to adopt a single uniform code for all English-speaking readers. So they looked at raised letters, they looked at New York Point, they looked at Modified American Braille, and they looked at British Braille. And they compared all of their strengths and weaknesses, and in the end, the committee, the Uniform Type Committee decided that British Braille was superior. British Braille was basically the original French alphabet code, but then with this complicated set of contractions. That's 1905. 1909, there's this big knockdown, drag out debate between braille and New York Point supporters at a hearing that was held at the New York City Board of Education over what system was going to be used in New York's day classes for students who were blind.

Now, bear in mind that really, before this, if you were a kid who was blind, you were going to have to go to one of the residential schools. But New York City was big enough that there were enough kids who were blind there that they could form day programs. This was the genesis of sending kids to public school. And so they had a big debate hearing to decide which system they were going to use for the books they were going to use in these day classes. And everybody was there. All the heavy hitters were brought in to testify at this at these hearings. And if you're interested, this entire debate is recreated in the pages of the magazine Outlook for the Blind, which you can find on the internet archive. It's a fascinating reading. And of course, Helen Keller, everybody who's anybody is brought there to testify, either for or against one of the systems. In the end, the vote goes to braille.

And at the very next annual meeting of the American Printing House for the Blind, our board here decided to ramp up its production of Modified American Braille. Now, having united the United States behind Modified American Braille, then the Uniform Type Committee began negotiating with the other English-speaking countries to try and unite the English-speaking world behind one code. The British were really in love with their highly contracted system. The Americans were not … did not like a highly contracted system. They really wanted just a few contractions, and we couldn't agree. And so, after years of unsuccessful negotiations, the Uniform Type Committee instead adopted a code called Braille Grade One and a Half. Braille Grade One and Half. Right? Now, if that isn't the sound of a compromise, I don't know what is. Right? So, Braille Grade One and a Half was basically British Braille.

It was based on Louis' alphabet, but it only had 44 contractions. So it was much less contracted than what the British were using. But it was basically the same system. So British readers could easily read this Braille Grade One and a Half, but American readers could not read the British Braille, because it was too heavily contracted. They kept arguing about it. Eventually, the Uniform Type Committee dissolved and turned over its negotiating position to the American Foundation for the Blind, which had just been founded. The delegates from AFB continued hammering on it with the British, and in 1932 at the London Type Conference, delegates from all of the English-speaking countries finally approved a uniform braille system that was called Standard English Braille. In the end, it was the Americans who gave up and just let the British win. And so, it was basically the British code with all of its contractions that we still use today.

The only real concession to the Americans was that, in the British system it was okay for contractions to break over syllables. But the Americans just could not stand that, and so they got the British to agree that from now on, you would never break a contraction over two syllables. Other than that, it was pretty much British Braille. So now, we have finally in 1932 united the entire English-speaking world using Standard English Braille. And it would be great if we could just say, “And then everybody used braille, and everybody lived happily ever after.” But that's not what happened. In 1941, really 1941 to 1953, there is this tremendous epidemic all over the world of infants having their sight damaged by the oxygen in the newly invented hospital incubator. The incubator had been invented to basically save the lives of premature babies, which it did very successfully.

But initially, in the hospitals, they were using too much oxygen in the incubator and a lot of kids lost their sight. This was called retrolental fibroplasia. Retrolental fibroplasia. I think I had an extra R the first time I said it. So you suddenly have this big bump of kids in the United States who are blind or visually impaired, and the educational community in the United States is totally unprepared. There's not enough room in the residential schools for all these kids. And so, many of them overflow into the public schools, just about the time that public opinion was also shifting against having segregated schools for kids who were blind or visually impaired. So a lot of kids either get bumped into the public schools because there's not enough room for them in the residential schools, and also at the same time, we're just starting to do much more mainstreaming of kids into public schools.

Now, in the public schools, unlike in the residential schools, braille education was generally very poor, and a lot of students whose vision was failing but still had residual vision, were encouraged to use new technology that was being developed, like audio players and video magnifiers, even when the doctor knew that by the time they would reach adulthood, they would've lost all their vision and magnifiers wouldn't help them anymore. And so what we see is braille literacy in that generation drops dramatically all over the United States. Now, in 1950, the AAIB, and the AAWB, got together again and created the Joint Uniform Braille Committee, because by this time the original braille code had gotten a little clunky and they wanted to do some changes to Standard English Braille. One of the big recommendations that they did in 1952 was to recommend the adoption of the Nemeth Braille Code.

Now, the Nemeth Braille Code had been invented by this famous mathematician named Abraham Nemeth, wonderful man, he's in the Hall of Fame here. Nemeth had recognized that the Standard English Braille was not flexible enough for a person who wanted to be a mathematician or go into the sciences to do advanced math. And so, single-handedly, just about, Nemeth had invented this code that would allow the braille code to be used for advanced math, and in '52, that committee adopted Nemeth Braille Code for advanced mathematics. In 1959, the joint committee adopted the new addition of English Braille American Edition and published it, and at that time they changed their name to the AAIB AAWB Braille Authority. You'll know where we're heading when I give you that name of Braille Authority. So, in the 1960s, it was a time of great technological advance.

APH works with IBM to adapt computers to translate print to braille, that dramatically increases the speed of braille translation, and at the same time increases the amount of braille literature that's available because you can translate it a lot quicker. And then in 1976, a pair of French men, a couple named Oleg and Andy Tretiakov introduced the first commercially available paperless braille machine, that be the first refreshable braille display. It was called the digicassette, and more advanced machines soon follow. In 1976 also, the Braille Authority restructured itself, invited a bunch of other blindness organizations to participate, and became BANA, the Braille Authority of North America. That's still the governing body that supervises braille in the United States.

Now, by the 1990s, a lot of blindness organizations, the consumer groups like ACB and NFB began to look around and see that this whole generation of kids had graduated, and they were increasingly braille illiterate. BANA, the Braille Authority of North America, determined that one cause was the complexity of the code, and they began working on revising it. Organizations like APH developed some tools to help parents and teachers assess a kid at a very early age, so that very early on they could know when braille was the right choice. No matter how much residual vision the kid had now, these assessment tools were designed to let you know that you needed to teach the kid braille at a very early age if you were going to be successful with them. The National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind are often organizations that don't agree with each other, necessarily, on how to do things.

But behind this promotion of braille literacy, NFB and ACB were united. And a bunch of university programs, the ones that were responsible for teaching the next generation of teachers, they began doing a better job of emphasizing braille education for teachers of the visually impaired. Now, in 2004, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act was passed, and that created the National Instructional Materials Access Center, NIMAC. The NIMAC is still operated here at the American Printing House for the Blind. The NIMAC was just this central database where parents, and students, and teachers could come to find already translated source files to produce student-ready formats in braille and audio. And so, what it was designed to do is to make it quicker and easier for people all over the country to find the books they needed, inaccessible formats, and get them produced.

Now, 2012, just kind of bring this story all up right to the end, to the present day, BANA passes a motion to formally adopt Unified English Braille, UEB. This revised code, whose goal is to bring braille into the 21st century. Just a few of the key changes in BANA is that they eliminate some contractions, I think nine, they change some symbols around like the dollar sign and the percentage sign, it changed, and then they add a number of new symbols, like bullets for bulleting lists and underscoring things. And then they add methods to do all kinds of formatting things that are common on computer documents, like bold and italics and underlining. And then they look at the way that we use language for social media, and websites, and email addresses, and they add symbols that will let people who are using braille do all those same things.

So, it was designed to look at the way that broader society uses language and changed the braille code to update it to include so that you could do all the same formatting and language changes that broader society was using.

Braille is still the fastest, most efficient way that we know to teach people who are blind or visually impaired, how to read and write, and to do it in the same exact format that people who are sighted are using in print.

So, that is my spiel. And so I guess now we can ask, if anybody has any questions.

Vileen S.: Okay. Thank you so much, Mr. Hudson. You gave us a good tour of the museum. I will say it's a verbal tour, but I feel as if I walked into your museum. That was so graphic, and so well said.

Jodie: Hello there. This is Jodie in New Hampshire, and I am part of that RLF generation. I'm 66 years old, and I've heard that we were referred to as the lost generation because if we were older, we would've automatically gone to the schools for the blind, and if we were younger, then we would have been covered by all of the Rehab Acts of the 1970s. Thanks to Hadley, I now enjoy the joy of braille, and rather late than never. But I wanted to thank you for this presentation today. It was really interesting and thank you.

Michael Hudson: Were you encouraged to… describe your own braille education experience when you were a kid.

Jodie: Well, as a kid, I had enough vision to “get by”. So I stuck my nose in the book, I could read, and I was reading. I actually was put in remedial reading classes when I was in the seventh grade, which is ridiculous in hindsight. And I graduated high school with a second-grade reading speed. And also, I had glaucoma. I didn't know it at the time, but I was very limited on how much print I could read. And I went off to college and I fell flat on my face. I had every intention of really wanting to do well, and there was no way that I could keep up with the work because I didn't have those skills that were so necessary. And I had totally blind friends who had no problems at all. They could take notes, they could read, they were very functional, where I thought with the vision I had, I would be able to succeed. But the attitude when I went to school was, you either got by or, “We'll send you off to a school for the blind.”

So, there was always that threat where, “You better do better using what limited vision you have,” which is like getting blood out of a rock. And so I never learned any of the skills I needed. I did have a teacher for the visually impaired, but all she did was help me catch up when I fell behind.

Michael Hudson: That's a very familiar story. You pretty much lived what I was talking about.

Jodie: Exactly. That's why I thought I would make a comment because I really … And of course, I didn't realize any of this at the time because I was a kid in public school, I also had a miserable time because I was always picked on, but that's a whole different story. Anyway.

Vileen S.: Good. Thank you, Jodie.

Jodie: No, thank you.

Vileen S.: One little story I will share before I allow others to ask. Sometimes, it's the best thing not to have something. I have my education from India, and in the 1970s and '80s, almost every blind learned braille because we did not have other technology like magnifier and all that. So, when I told some of them that many people who are blind in the United States do not know braille, my friends said, “What! How in the world they can live?” I said, “Yeah, they do. They have technology, but…” Next question please.

Elyse H.: Wonderful. Let's see. Allen, you're next in line.

Vileen S.: Go ahead.

Allen: Hi, this is Allen.

Vileen S.: Yes, Allen?

Allen: A question. What size print pitch do you print materials in? And at what point in time before UEB did we start calling it ABAE? Over.

Vileen S.: Good question. Yeah, and only the museum director can answer it?

Michael Hudson: The second question, I actually don't know the answer to that. I'll let you know that I've probably forgotten 30 times more than my poor little brain can remember now. The first answer is, it varies between 18 and 24 point as our large print.

Allen: Thank you.

Vileen S.: Okay. And EBAE, I think I do not have the exact year, Allen, but somewhere in the 1980s. But last current is 2013, and we are now the UEB. Next question.

Elyse H.: Okay. Let's go down to Susan, you're next in line.

Susan Browning: Hi.

Vileen S.: Hi. Are you Susan Browning?

Susan Browning: Yes. Thank you so much, Mr. Hudson. I'm curious, are you blind or visually impaired, and how did you get involved with the printing?

Vileen S.: American Printing House.

Michael Hudson: Sure. That's a great question. I'm not. If I take my glasses off, I'm legally blind, but as long as I have my glasses on, I can see well enough to drive. But I would have to say that when I started at APH in 2005, I knew nothing about blindness.

Vileen S.: Wow.

Michael Hudson: I had a friend who I'd worked with in the museum field who had lost her vision due to juvenile diabetes, and her father was a transcriber at the museum where we worked, and he also had lost his vision. So I knew a couple of people who had lost their vision, but I was like most sighted people. One of the things that you quickly learn when you hang around here at APH is how profoundly ignorant that the general sighted community is about blindness. And I would say I was that person as well. Okay? Every stereotype that anybody who's blind or visually impaired has ever had to deal with, I probably had those as well. 14 years later, I sincerely think of myself as a member of the blind community. I get most of the etiquette right. And I have many, many friends here at APH that are blind or visually impaired, and I think I've read a lot about the history. But yeah, I knew nothing about it.

While I'm on that, let me give a correct answer to the question that was asked before. So EBAE, which is English Braille American Edition was adopted in 1959. So a long, long time between '59, when it was adopted, and-

Vileen S.: 2012.

Michael Hudson: …2012, yeah, when UEB is adopted?

Vileen S.: Okay, great. Thank you. I may want to add here that the way Mike, Mr. Hudson, related the story of braille and braille script, and the way he talked about everything related to braille and blind and visually impaired community, at least I, and most of you, did not even feel that he was sighted. That shows his involvement with his job and with our community, the blind and visually impaired.

Michael Hudson: Thank you, Dr. Shah. That's a high compliment. I appreciate that.

Vileen S.: You're most welcome. Next question.

Elyse H.: Wonderful. Beth, you're next in line.

Beth: I was wondering, like jumbo braille, when I was at the Foundation for the Junior Blind, or Davidson Program for Independence, I learned about jumbo braille. Well, I've heard about it. Some people, I guess they can't feel regular braille, so they just use jumbo braille. I wonder who invented that?

Michael Hudson: It's British. The British seem to, from the very beginning, have always had a little more concern about adult readers, people who lose their vision later in life. So, for instance, if you've ever seen this code called Moon type, it was actually invented in the 1850s. And what Moon type is, is it's raised letters, like Dr. Shah described, but slightly modified so that it's more distinguishable to the touch. And the British and Foreign Society for Improving Embossed Literature for the Blind, which was founded in the 19th century, some of their earliest slates were in that jumbo braille. And for those of you who have not seen it before, jumbo braille is basically just bigger. But in general, Standard Braille in the United States has always been the much more common. You don't see a lot of jumbo braille, and it would be hard probably to find a jumbo braille slate even today. You'd have to look long and hard to find one.

Beth: Yeah, that's even harder for me, the jumbo, because I've started with Standard Braille.

Michael Hudson: So now, it's bigger than your fingertip. Whatever you start with is what you usually prefer.

Beth: Right, right.

Elyse H.: Wonderful. This person's phone number starts 303. What's your name, please?

Deborah: I'm Deborah, and I'm high in the Rockies.

Vileen S.: Very good.

Deborah: My question is, and it can be for the general class, I guess. I just got my first lesson in braille in the mail yesterday. I've never read braille. I sat with a package on my lap and was mortified. I don't know how to get started. I've been blind all my life. I'm creeping up on 70. So I've got your other, other woman beat. Anyway, I just don't… I can't even open the package, and I'm losing hearing, which is why I'm learning braille now because I know it's going to be important. So, any kind of suggestions would be helpful.

Vileen S.: Okay. Mike?

Michael Hudson: No. Dr. Shah, I'm going to leave that to you for her.

Vileen S.: I know. Well, to begin with, Deborah, if I can say there, or Debbie, you may really want to learn braille no matter how hard you find, or how difficult you may… It's not that difficult, but sometimes it varies from individual to individual. So, if I have to tell you something in one word, I would say, “Persist,” because Helen Keller said, and I am not sure if she said, “Persistence spells success.” Okay? So keep learning braille.

Deborah: Patience and persistence.

Vileen S.: Yes, patience-

Deborah: And are older hands different? Older fingers? I'm a dedicated cook and have burned myself over and over. Is that going to be difficult?

Vileen S.: It will make some difference, yes, but not necessarily. You will know only by trying. Everybody's finger sensitivity is different, and sometimes, yeah, burning does effect. But we do not know how far it has affected your sensitivity.

Deborah: Well, Mike, thank you so much. That was a brilliant talk.

Vileen S.: All right. Thank you, too.

Michael Hudson: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Vileen S.: Yes, next question.

Elyse H.: Wonderful. Thank you, Deborah. We'll go to this first person's phone number is 903. What's your name, please?

Michelle: This is Michelle. Thank you so much, Mr. Hudson. Can you hear me? This is Michelle.

Michael Hudson: I sure can, Michelle. Go ahead.

Michelle: Mike, I had a question that had to do with, what is the oldest item… written item, a book, material that you have in the museum. The second question, do you partner with businesses in the community to do their braille. Over.

Michael Hudson: Right. When you ask the oldest, are you meaning the oldest tactile print, or the oldest print print?

Michelle: Yes. Thank you. Tactile, because I'm focusing on braille. Thank you.

Michael Hudson: We have two books that I consider the Old Testament and the New Testament. Okay? The Old Testament is Valentin Haüy's Essay on Education for the Blind. It was published in 1786, and it was the first raised letter book ever embossed anywhere in the world. And then we have Louis Braille's first publication of the braille code, the Procédé, The Method, that he published in 1829. That's the New Testament, because that points us forward. Right? Interestingly enough, it is also in raised letters, but of course, it has the corresponding braille dot symbol beside the raised letters. So there would be a raised A, and then there would be the one dot for the A in braille. Those are the two oldest that we have. And then your second question about, “Yes, we do.”

We have a contract sales office here, and so one of the things our president has been trying to do is to make Louisville the most accessible city in the United States, which sounds like bold talk and probably is, but we've been trying to work with all the restaurants, for instance, just on our own street to get them to have a braille menu, because we have a lot of folks that live here in our community that are blind or visually impaired. And if you don't offer a braille menu on Frankfurt Avenue in Louisville, Kentucky, you shouldn't offer one anywhere. Right? We should have all our businesses should all be offering those. So yeah, we are working on that.

Vileen S.: Good.

Michelle: Well, thank you. Thank you.

Elyse H.: Great. The next person's numbers starts 734. What's your name, please?

Allison: This is Allison from Michigan. Can everybody hear me?

Vileen S.: Yes. Go ahead, please, Allison.

Allison: Okay. I first want to say, Mike, thank you for your presentation. Like I said, I've been blind since birth. I started learning braille when I was three years old. I was mainstream, had a wonderful VI consultant. My question to you is, why did they switch from EBAE to UEB, because a lot of people say they could have left the braille code alone. “We don't like this new UEB code.” Some people like it, some people don't.

Michael Hudson: So, think about this. You've just listened to my entire presentation, right? And you remember that we went through many different transitions. Imagine at each stage, no matter which code you knew how to use, when they came up with a new code, you would be… One, you might be confused, and two, you might be very angry. We did an exhibit in one of the office buildings in Washington, DC. It was either in the Senate or a House office building. And I had a young man come up to me and just really tear me a new one about UEB, as if it was my fault because I was telling the story. But here's the thing, braille is a living code. It's alive. It's not dying, it's alive. And there's only 63 possible mathematical combinations of those six dots, and we can do amazing things with those 63 dots.

But every now and then, we've got to tweak it a little bit to modernize it for new needs that were not imagined when Louis invented the code in 1829. So, in order to make this incredible, elegant, wonderful little code continue to work, we're going to have to tweak it every now and then. Now, we can agree, or we can disagree on the tweaks. Okay? I don't put myself out there as an advocate one way or another about the changes that they made in UEB. Here at the Printing House, we just print whatever you all need. Whatever you all ask for, that's what we're going to make. If you want to do UEB, that's fine. If you want to do Advanced Mandarin, we'll do that. But the code is alive, and so, good people, smart people came together and decided that it was time that it needed to be changed.

And whenever you change the code, you're going to change it, not just for the United States and the millions of people here, but for people in Canada, and Great Britain, and New Zealand, and Australia, all around the world. And so people have to come together and have to agree on those things. That's never done painlessly. So, my answer is just that braille is alive and every now and then we have to change it. We can disagree about the changes, but it's always going to be changing. Always.

Vileen S.: Great. I may add, as Mike, Mr. Hudson said, braille is a living code, and no living thing, or no one living can survive without a change. So change is necessary. Now, another thing is there's always reaction to the change. There are people who do not like, there are people who like. But that ultimately gets settled as time goes by. Okay, next question.

Elyse H.: Wonderful. Tammy, you're next in line.

Tammy Snyder: Hi.

Vileen S.: Hi, Tammy.

Tammy Snyder: I'm Tammy.

Vileen S.: Tammy Snyder?

Tammy Snyder: Yes.

Vileen S.: Yes, go ahead.

Tammy Snyder: I was born blind. I probably learned braille when I was five or six, and I'm for braille and I want to thank you, Mike, for sharing the history of the Museum of APH. I know that some of the old schools, like the ones that were available back in like 1832, '29. Overbrook was one of them, and Perkins. I know Overbrook was one of the ones that did the book of Matthew, the Gospel of Matthew. Do you know what type that was in?

Michael Hudson: If you're thinking about the first book that was done in raised letters here in the United States, is that what you're thinking of?

Tammy Snyder: Yes.

Michael Hudson: That was the book of Mark, so you were very close.

Tammy Snyder: Sorry.

Vileen S.: [inaudible] correct. [crosstalk].

Michael Hudson: Yeah, and it was done in Philadelphia, as you say, by a man named Snyder. And it was in a very flowing, rounded, serif font that you could not imagine ever wanting to emboss.

Tammy Snyder: Trying to read?

Michael Hudson: Yes, and it was the first here in the United States, so it was very experimental. And so the relief is not very good as well. If you compare that book, which we … By the way, we have a copy of that book here, so we're very proud of that. It's very wonderful. But if you compare that to, say a book done at Perkins just a few years later in a font called New York… I mean, Boston Line Letter, the relief of those books is so much crisper than that first book that was done in Philadelphia. But Philadelphia was a center for early embossed books, a lot of them done by printers who were blind or visually impaired themselves. There was a very famous guy named Napoleon Nice Jr., who was a fellow who was blind but became a prolific printer there in Philadelphia.

Tammy Snyder: Do you know the first magazine that was ever done? Because that happened too at Overbrook.

Michael Hudson: I'm not sure. The earliest magazines I'm really familiar with didn't come around ‘til the 20th century. I'll tell you what, I need to make a trip to Overbrook. It is an incredible place and it's like holy ground, and I have wanted to go there for years and years and years, and I really need to go over there and learn more about-

Tammy Snyder: I need to go there again. That's where I went to school.

Michael Hudson: Oh, okay. Great.

Vileen S.: Great.

Michael Hudson: Yeah, great school, great tradition, amazing center of innovation there.

Tammy Snyder: Thank you.

Vileen S.: I think Matilda Ziegler for the blind.

Michael Hudson: Yes. That's the magazine I was thinking of, was Matilda Ziegler. It was done in New York.

Vileen S.: Yes. Certainly, one of the earliest, if not the first one.

Michael Hudson: Right.

Vileen S.: I think it was maybe the first one, and it lived about more than 100 years.

Elyse H.: Thank you, Tammy. Next person's phone number starts 573.

Rick: Hi. That would be Rick, I assume. Anyway, that was a great presentation, by the way. I loved it.

Vileen S.: Great.

Rick: The majority of what's going down in UEB, I've become pretty comfortable with. There's still a few things I'm … but mostly … Yeah, okay. I do wonder though if a … Most of the people I know were not confused or confounded by the contractions of EBAE, although I realize why some of them don't work in UEB. My understanding was that one of the big reasons for messing around with the contractions was, not so much what people were comfortable with, but what computers could back-translate.

Michael Hudson: That's exactly right. It had a lot to do with trying to make computer translation easier and more logical.

Rick: Right. I do wonder if they … As you said, it's a living system. I wonder if they would consider … Well, first off, did they go through the old grades free symbol sets? And I realize, most of those things could not work, but there are a few that I thought, “Maybe they should have considered,” and maybe they did, maybe they didn't. For instance, the letter O for on, which yes, it does mean that when you occasionally say, “O,” like in a poem, you'd have to use the grade one signs. I think that would be worth it. And they could rescue the LLY thing by simply adding a dot for, now that they considered that. Also a few other little things, like four, five, six, L for long. I just think it'd be really convenient, but I don't know if they considered any of that stuff.

Michael Hudson: Yeah, those are interesting questions, I have to admit, I don't know.

Elyse H.: Okay. Let's see. Now, person's phone number starts 516. What's your name, please?

Jonathan: Hi. My name is Jonathan.

Vileen S.: Yes, Jonathan.

Jonathan: Hi. This is my first time joining a Hadley discussion group.

Vileen S.: Okay, welcome.

Jonathan: This is wonderful. Thank you so much. This is great. If Deborah is still listening, I just wanted to say, I know when you're learning something new sometimes it can be a little overwhelming. But if you if you hang in there, it's definitely worth it. Mr. Hudson, when you were talking about the Nemeth Code, I was very interested in that. I'm really very interested in learning to use braille and learn math and physics and stuff like that.

Vileen S.: Wow.

Jonathan: I was curious to know whether Nemeth Code has been changed in relation to UEB or not. And secondly, you mentioned that the American Printing House had different items that were designed for use with math. Would you be able to briefly describe some of them?

Michael Hudson: Sure. I'll leave the actual question about the Nemeth Code and UEB to Dr. Shah, but we have a whole section on arithmetic. The one advantage that sighted people have over people who are blind in doing a math problem is the ability to just write down the problem on a piece of paper and do it in columns. Okay?

Jonathan: Right.

Michael Hudson: Because basically, what you do is you memorize the answer to all the easy math and then you break the math problem down into a series of easy math problems. You do that with a piece of paper, and a grid, and a pencil. So the way that traditional schools for the blind overcame that disadvantage was they would create these grids. They were called Texas slates, and they're made out of wood. Basically, we just have a grid of wood and you would have these little types that would fit into them, and there's many, many different forms of that grid. You could have a little metal type with literally raised numbers on top. You could have little metal types with braille on top. You could have different symbols. Not braille, and not raised letters, but that as you rotate the symbol, the symbol changes its meaning so that each little type has multiple meanings depending on which orientation it is in the hole.

Some of the holes are square, some of them are octagonal, some of them are hexagonal. No, not hexagonal, pentagonal. Then there's also a whole series of abacus-based devices based on Asian computers, basically abacus or in Japan called the soroban, that have been adapted for people who are blind to use. Even all the way back into antiquity where you might tie knots onto leather strings, or just use pebbles as a mnemonic, as a way to remember a number. You might use little piles of pebbles, stacks of notch sticks. Lots of different techniques have been experimented with, just to help you remember the numbers long enough to break it down into the simple math problems that we know the answer to automatically. Right? Five times four is 20, right?

Jonathan: Right.

Michael Hudson: You don't need to … You remember that, and that's how you're able to divide 5.2 into seven million and a half, if that makes any sense. You know what I'm saying? And then of course, in modern days we have all kinds of talking calculators and that sort of thing.

Jonathan: Are any of those still available; those tables that you were talking about?

Michael Hudson: Well, there's a thing called a Taylor Slate that you can still buy from a manufacturer in India. I think it's called Advance, Advanced Manufacturing or something like that. They make a lot of traditional braille devices. And then from the American Printing House, you can buy what's called a Cubarithm, and it's just a little rubber grid, and then it has a little dice that on the surface of the dice are the braille symbols. And as you rotate the braille, the little cube around, you can create all the braille symbols that you need to create the columns that you need to do math.

Jonathan: Nice. Thank you.

Michael Hudson: You're welcome.

Vileen S.: Thank you. Quickly, I would say about Nemeth Code, is it same as UEB? The answer is yes and no. There are some English-speaking countries that are part of the World Council on English Braille, WCEB, that has created UEB, United English Braille, and nine of them have adopted UEB as part of the math code as well. No separate Nemeth. They just want to have one code for everything, and the United States has not. And there is an interesting thing, Dr. Abraham Nemeth was part of the WCEB. He's no more with us, unfortunately, but he made a tremendous contribution to braille. Dr. Nemeth wanted one code for everything. He did not insist on having Nemeth Code separately. The United States still has the Nemeth Code separate. It's not part of the UEB. All right?

Thank you so much. I once again thank Mr. Hudson for giving us such a brilliant talk, and I would also like to thank Elyse for helping us to coordinate the whole session as a co-host. And I thank you all. Bye now.