Reading by Touch: Pre-1950

Braille had competition in the early part of the 20th century.  Canadians who were trained in various schools for the blind in England and North America were exposed to a variety of raised print reading and writing systems.  In fact, the CNIB Library’s predecessor, the CFLB, circulated material in seven different embossed print formats.  When the Library was folded into the CNIB in 1918, some of these were still in use, two of the best known being New York Point, and Moon type.

New York Point: Some blind Canadian readers were most familiar with a system called “New York Point.” The inventor, William Bell Wait, taught it at the New York Institute for the Blind.  Its characters were two dots high and up to four dots wide. The Ontario Institution for the Blind (OIB) in Brantford adopted this system around the turn of the 20th century where it was learned by OIB pupils including E.B.F. Robinson who founded the CFLB.

Moon type: William Moon was a British man who lost his sight from scarlet fever when he was a child.  He based his raised type system on simplified versions of regular print, using lines and curves.  Some readers found Moon easier to learn than braille or New York Point, especially if they had lost their sight as adults after learning how to read print, or if their sense of touch was less acute. The Halifax School adopted Moon type as of 1877.  Moon books were still being distributed by the CNIB Library until 1971, when the service was transferred to the National Library for the Blind in England.  It is still used by some in the U.K.

Braille: The best-known and ultimately the dominant raised print system was braille.  Louis Braille, who lost his sight as a young child, became frustrated with the large and bulky raised letter alphabet systems of his day. He spent many years experimenting with tactile code after learning about a raised dot system for military use called “night writing.” He eventually developed the six-dot cell system that bears his name, first publishing it in 1829.

Braille has had many modifications over the years. Major adaptations included the addition of contractions to represent groups of letters or whole words. This allowed for faster reading and smaller-sized, less bulky braille books.  After decades of effort, in the early 1930s, representatives of the blind of Great Britain and the United States agreed on a modified code to standardize English braille.  Braille developments continued throughout the century, until the present day. CNIB has been an active participant in these developments.