The First Book for Blind People
A copy of An Essay on the Education of the Blind is on exhibit at the Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind.
In 1786, Valentin Haüy presented to King Louis XVI of France the first book embossed in raised letters of the alphabet made especially for blind people to read. Titled An Essay on the Education of the Blind, the book was printed by students of Haüy’s school and dedicated to the King. It was presented as part of an exhibition to promote the education of blind people and the National Institute of Blind Youth and to garner support from “Louis the Beneficent.”
This unique volume represents the fruition of Haüy’s efforts to produce a tactile book for blind readers. The text of the Essay explains the purpose of the school he founded—the National Institute of Blind Youth in Paris—the education provided there and the means of providing information through embossed books.
Haüy’s School and the First Tactile Printing for Blind People
D Appalled at the plight of blind people of the eighteenth century who were not educated and dependent upon charities, Haüy established his school to enlighten and entertain his students. They were instructed in the subjects of literature, language arts, music, geography, mathematics, history, reading, and writing, as well as provided training in printing and skilled handicrafts useful in obtaining employment. Central to his plan was the provision of reading material in tactile form. He describes a printing method devised for embossing books with raised letters of the alphabet using a cylindrical press, dampened paper, and raised type. Students, trained in the printing process and using a special composing device to set type, could produce books for themselves as well as for people not associated with the school. Haüy notes that this printing process could produce all types of information understandable through touch such as text, tactile maps, musical notation, and designs. For individual tactile writing, his students used an iron pen, durable paper, and a writing frame to emboss raised letters.
Download an English translation of “An Essay on the Education of the Blind” by Thomas Blacklock, a blind poet, printed in 1793 by Alexander Chapman and Company. The spelling and punctuation are those found in the translation.
The Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind has a collection of archival materials relating to the educational history of blind people. It is a resource for research materials in the field. Researchers may use the collection by appointment or research inquiries may be made by phone or email.