The Cost of Success

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Howe’s success had costs even for the blind community. Boston Line Type's success hindered the popularity of braille, which was widely adopted in the US decades later than in Britain and France. The amount of time and money that Perkins and other American schools had invested into Boston Line Type made them resistant to adopting a new system. Boston Line Type was, however, much harder to learn than braille, and only braille allowed individuals with visual impairments to read and write tactilely.

The first eighty years of tactile reading in the US, therefore, took place in print forms designed to be universally accessible rather than in those most accessible to the touch. Sometimes, this story suggests, creating one design for all is at odds with maximizing accessibility for everyone.

The sketchfab interface below contains additional hidden links picked up by screen readers. The starting element is a link and ending element is the text "to rotate."

Description of Embossed Specimens                 

This page features part of the "Lord's Prayer" in William Moon's raised-print system. Blind himself, Moon was frustrated by the difficulty of educating blind and low-vision readers in raised-letter systems. In response, he invented Moon Type in 1845 in London as a compromise between systems like braille and systems like Boston Line Type. Unlike Boston Line Type, Moon Type remains useful, especially in England, where the Royal National Institute of Blind People offers it as an alternative for those who have trouble reading braille.

To read this passage, follow the odd lines (1, 3, 5) left to right and the even lines (2, 4, 6) right to left. This selection begins, “Our father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,” which is transcribed as:

Our father which art in h-

-an yht eb dewollah .nevae-

me

 

Striving for Universal Type

Boston Line Type, Moon Type, and braille were just three of many tactile-reading systems. Seeking standardization in 1853, Edmund Johnson selected Boston Line Type from a comparison of nine such systems. Favoring Roman letters, Johnson dismissed non-alphabetic systems that left blind readers “more isolated than ever, by shutting them entirely out from the help of those who have eyes.”

Many disagreed. Just one year later, France officially adopted braille.

Yet, fears about so-called "arbitrary" type persist today. Since the 1970s braille literacy has sharply declined due to not just advances in audio technology but also changing educational practices. In 2009, the National Federation of the Blind worried that braille was becoming dangerously stigmatized and that many parents and educators feared that braille “isolates and stigmatizes students from peers who read print.”