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Braille was based on a tactile military code called night writing, developed by Charles Barbier in response to Napoleon's demand for a means for soldiers to communicate silently at night and without light. In Barbier's system, sets of 12 embossed dots encoded 36 different sounds. It proved to be too difficult for soldiers to recognise by touch, and was rejected by the military.

In 1821 Barbier visited the Royal Institute for the Blind in Paris, where he met Louis Braille. Braille identified two major defects of the code:


  1. By representing only sounds, the code was unable to render the orthography of the words;
  2. The human finger could not encompass the whole 12-dot symbol without moving, and so could not move rapidly from one symbol to another.

Braille's solution was to use 6-dot cells and to assign a specific pattern to each letter of the alphabet. The expanded English system, called Grade-2 Braille, was complete by 1905. For the blind today, braille is an independent writing system rather than a code of printed orthography.

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