Towards Modern Braille
From its earliest inceptions, one of the major drawbacks of
braille has been its bulk. Braille books take up tremendous
amounts of space and are difficult to transport. It was also
noted fairly early on that even the best readers could not read
as fast as their sighted counterparts, and that this was
primarily due to the fact that fingers cannot physically scan
dots as quickly as eyes can scan printed letters. In the early
1900s, supporters of braille worked to improve both of those
shortcomings. The solution was the development of braille
contractions, which are one- or two-cell symbols which represent
either part of a word, a whole word, or both. The use of
contractions worked both to reduce the bulk of braille books and
to reduce the number of cells that had to be scanned by the
fingers. The proper use of contractions will occupy the majority
of your time as this course proceeds over the next several weeks!
In developing contractions, three "grades" of braille were
recognized: Grade 1 braille uses the 26 letters of the alphabet,
some specialized symbols for punctuation, but no contractions;
Grade 2 uses all of the part- and whole-word contractions. After
several years of significant discussions on the various notation
systems (and between American and British versions of braille!),
in 1932 Standard English Braille was accepted as the uniform type
for British and American braille codes. This is the current
version used by the Library of Congress and the American Printing
House for the Blind, the two largest producers of braille
materials, and the version that is being taught in this program.
While some modifications have occurred over the years, the most
recent in 1962, Grade 2 Standard English Braille is the one in
widespread use today. Grade 3 braille is a highly-contracted form of braille, sort of a braille "shorthand", used by few readers.
There are several other good electronic readings on the history of braille. Check them out!