Tactile alphabets

When I discussed my idea with the traced movements of the mouth while speaking, the idea of developing these to a tactile alphabet came up. As blind people tend to touch the lips of their closest people in order to ‘read’ what they’re talking about, making an alphabet out of the actual mouth movements could be a good idea.

In order to go that way, it is essential to look a little bit on other tactile alphabets. There are six systems of embossed type aimed for blind people:

Braille system, developed by Louis Braille, is one of the most popular tactile systems for blind people, used today.

Hauy, who developed the Hauy system, was the founder of the school for blind people, where Braille used to go. He designed and made books for blind people using a technique of embossing heavy paper with raised imprints of Latin letters. Readers would trace their fingers over the embossed type and read. A not so successful system, as proved later, although it had a feature that was an achievement: reading through touching as a workable strategy for sightless reading.

Louis Braille in 1821, learned a system devised by Captain Charles Barbier of the French Army, a stealth-writing system that soldiers could use quietly in the dark. The army’s system had syllabic units represented by 12 dots and the whole grid was larger than the end of a finger, so it failed (something that probably lead Hauy’s system to failure as well). Braille took that system and simplified it to six dots to represent alphabetic characters and made the grid smaller. The dots are arranged in two columns of 3 and any combination of the dots may be raised from the surface, usually a thick card, giving 64 permuations to create a tactile code for letters of the alphabet. An interesting feature of the Braille alphabet is that it is an alphabet: a phonographic system beginning a reversion to logographic methods, as many of the characters can also be used to represent simple words.

Source: ‘Shapes for sounds’ book, by Timothy Donaldson

Moon alphabet

Designed by Dr William Moon, a system consisting of 26 raised letters for partially sighted people, or those who have lost their sight as adults. The Moon alphabet has 8 Roman capital shapes: C I J L O U V Z, 13 letters partially based on Roman capitals or Carolingian minuscules: A B D E F K M N P Q S T X and 5 completely new shapes: G H R W Y. Less popular than Braille, harder to produce but easier to learn, and like Braille, numerals double-up with the first 10 letters aided by a determinative sign.

Edinburgh printer and publisher James Gall devised this tactile alphabet (below). Its angular forms were deemed more easily discernible by touch than existing types. The Gospel by St. John for the blind (Edinburgh, 1834) was the first major work to be printed in Gall’s type, and he also published The first class book for the blind (Edinburgh, [1840?]), and A historical sketch of the origin and progress of literature for the blind (Edinburgh, 1834). No other copy is known.



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