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Atlas for the blind taught geography before Braille became the standard

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In 1837, the New England Institute published the "Atlas of the United States Printed for the Use of the Blind" to help the vision impaired learn geography without the use of Braille.

embossed map
embossed map

In 1837, Samuel Gridley Howe, founder of the New England Institute, helped publish what is regarded as the first atlas for the blind that did not require the assistance of a sighted person. Braille had already been introduced to the world at that time, although had not yet reached widespread adoption. As an alternative, Gridley helped the blind learn geography by utilizing a unique embossing process that placed distinctive lettering and symbols on sheets of stiff pasteboard. The New England Institute had only published 50 copies of the "Atlas of the United States Printed for the Use of the Blind" — Braille eventually became the standard for the vision impaired — and only five are in existence today. Fortunately, one of the final copies can be viewed in its entirety today thanks to the David Rumsey Map Collection.