Writing Systems for the Blind Used by Helen Keller
Helen Keller was educated at a time when many competing systems for reading and writing for the blind were being used, invented, reinvented, and eventually standardized. These systems included embossed Roman alphabets, namely Boston Line Type, dot systems including English Braille, American Braille, and New York Point, and a system that utilized abstracted Roman letter forms called Moon Type. Keller was born in 1880 and it wasn't until 1918 that Standard Braille was adopted as the official system in the United States. Within that time, Keller became the first person who was deafblind to earn a Bachelor's degree, and she had to read fluently in all of these systems for her studies.
The difficulty created by these competing systems cannot be understated. In a letter to William Wade written in 1901, Keller remarks: "There is nothing more absurd, I think, than to have five or six different prints for the blind..." (from her book The Story of My Life, 1905). The seminal work on the history of reading systems for the blind in the United States, tellingly titled The War of the Dots, introduces the subject with the following quote: "The conflict was acrimonious in the extreme. The bitterness can hardly be imagined." -Dr. Olin H. Burritt, Principal, Overbrook School for the Blind.
This collection includes examples of books and other printed materials for the blind in five different systems all designed to be read with your fingers, and one pamphlet titled: "Opinions of Blind Teachers and Pupils in Regard to the Braille System", printed in 1866 at the Missouri School for the Blind.
Raking, uneven light was used in the imaging process to highlight the tactile, three dimensional nature of the embossing, which is sometimes hard to reproduce in photographs since no ink is used in the printing process.
For a brief history of reading and writing systems for the blind please visit the Perkins History Museum page on Reading and Writing.
History of reading systems for the blind in the United States: Irwin, R. B. (1976). The War of the Dots. New York: American Foundation for the Blind.
Article on the move away from embossed roman alphabets and towards standardized braille: Writing Systems for the Blind: Who Chooses?, by Jan Seymour-Ford, 2013.
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Rights and Permissions: All images in this collection are the property of Perkins School for the Blind. Use of these images requires written permission. For more information, please contact Archives@Perkins.org