Six dots in sixty-four possible arrangements penetrate the darkness. When Louis Braille invented his dot script in 1825, he gave generations of blind people access to written language. The script was founded on the idea of using the sense of touch to compensate for visual impairment. Arranged in different configurations similar to the dots on a dice, Braille makes the alphabet tangible. Letters, numbers and punctuation – even chemical formulae and whole musical scores – can be embossed in paper in accordance with a code. Since Braille is not a separate language but simply a system of coded signs, the original form invented for the Roman alphabet has meanwhile been complemented with versions for Arabic, Chinese and Cyrillic.
And how are the raised dots put on the paper? The oldest method, and the one closest to handwriting, is to use a stencil. Using a metal stylus and a matrix for orientation, the letters are embossed onto the paper dot by dot. Complicated enough, one would think, but in order for the reader to be able to feel the dots on the "reading side" of the paper in the normal direction of reading, i.e. from left to right, they have to be written entirely in mirror writing, as a reverse image, in other words. While to write Braille in mirror writing takes a well-developed spatial sense, to read it requires highly sensitive fingers, because the reader needs to feel the fine dots in order to literally "grasp" the meaning of the text. The average reading speed of an advanced reader of Braille is roughly the same as that of a sighted person. Hence, for many blind people, the six dots are the key to understanding the world.
“There is a wonder in reading Braille that the sighted will never know: to touch words and have them touch you.” – Jim Fiebig