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Moon Literacy

What Is Moon?

Moon allows people who are blind or partially sighted to read by touch. It is a code of raised shapes and takes its name from its blind English inventor, Dr William Moon.

Graphic of Moon Alphabet

Moon is intended for blind or partially sighted people of any age. As the characters are fairly large and over half the letters bear a strong resemblance to the print equivalent, Moon has been found particularly suitable for those who lose their sight later in life, or for people who may have a less keen sense of touch. Age is no barrier to learning and enjoying using Moon, with many octogenarians and nonagenarians being regular readers. Another group, children with additional physical and/or learning difficulties, is also acquiring some literacy skills through learning Moon, and it is hoped that more adults with complex needs may also have the opportunity to try Moon as they may benefit from using it.

Some people who cannot get on with braille find Moon much easier, and gain such confidence in their sense of touch through using Moon that they have returned successfully to braille.

Photograph of a braille alphabet card

Whereas braille is made up of patterns of dots, Moon uses lines and curves, similar to print, to create nine basic shapes. Rotating or reflecting these shapes in different ways creates the 26 letters of the alphabet. Adding a few dots for punctuation marks and a numeral sign completes Grade 1 Moon, which can be used to provide a tactile version of any text.

In order to increase speed of reading and reduce bulk, some additional signs and an elementary form of shorthand can be learned; for example, a single symbol represents the letters “ch”, and the word “yesterday” is represented by the letters “yd”. This more complex system is known as Grade 2 Moon.

People often wonder why the ordinary alphabet is not raised for use by touch. The answer is that this was tried in the early days, and because of the complexity of printed letters it was found that they had to be made very large to be felt properly. Readers were frustrated by slow reading speeds and very bulky books.

Many others tried adaptations of printed letters before Dr Moon devised his system, but the comparative simplicity of Moon ensured its success, which has survived the test of time.

For many years Moon was read going along the lines firstly from left to right and then right to left. This avoided having to scan back along the line to find the next one. However, Moon production in recent years has followed the standard way of reading braille or large print, always going from left to right.

When Dr Moon invented his system in 1845, braille, though invented 16 years before, had not reached this country from France and Moon was well established by the time braille was taken up. It has remained an indispensable alternative ever since.

One method currently used for producing Moon documents involves a computer, a Moon font and a heat fuser machine. Moon characters are printed onto heat sensitive paper (such as Zychem) which is then passed through a heat fuser, raising the black images from the page so that they can be easily felt. The main disadvantage of this method of production is the high cost of the heat sensitive paper.

Photograph of a book in linear moon

It is also possible to produce Moon-like characters from electronic text files on some braille embossers (printers that produce braille) linked to a computer; this is generally known as dotted (or dotty) Moon. Evaluation of this type of Moon with children and adults (learners and fluent readers) suggests that most people find it as easy, if not easier, to read than traditional linear Moon. While the initial outlay on embossing equipment is considerable, running costs are relatively cheap and production is straightforward.

A low tech alternative for producing short notes and making Moon labels is the Moon Frame (available from RNIB). Special writing material (plastic film) is placed inside a hinged plastic frame. A Moon character is then written with a biro in each space on the grid of squares. By pressing quite hard, the German film puckers so that the Moon characters can be easily felt when the material is taken out of the frame. Many Moon readers get quite proficient at using this method of writing.

Advantages of Moon

  • Moon provides an "active" reading method for people who cannot access print - listening to audio books etc is passive
  • Moon's similarity to print makes it easy for previous print readers to learn and remember the letters, punctuation marks and other signs
  • Self study courses in Grade 1 and Grade 2 Moon are available from RNIB, enabling a would-be learner to make a start even if a teacher is not available
  • Moon is larger and the characters are more "open" than braille, so easier to feel and decipher
  • Moon requires a considerably less acute sense of touch than braille, so can sometimes help readers with diabetes whose finger sensitivity is reduced
  • Even contracted (Grade 2) Moon, which offers space saving and speeds up reading, is quick to learn
  • Moon offers a system for labelling all kinds of items (cassettes, cans and packets of food, medicines, documents, etc), which aids independence and raises self esteem in a person who has recently lost their sight
  • Moon is a simple system that a user's family and friends can learn quickly in order to help or communicate with the Moon reader
  • Dotty Moon (produced on a braille embosser using translation software) is as easily produced as braille, and from the same electronic file
  • Some children and adults with learning and/or physical difficulties in addition to their visual impairments acquire some literacy through Moon, where braille would be impossible

Disadvantages of Moon

  • Moon books are very bulky, and often in many volumes
  • Some older people find large Moon volumes heavy and uncomfortable to read
  • The choice of Moon books available is very limited at present … and only a tiny fraction even of what is available in audio or braille formats
  • There are currently no Moon magazines available, except for deafblind readers
  • There is no portable, mechanical device for writing Moon, which there is for braille
  • The equipment for producing swell paper or dotty Moon is very expensive to buy, as is swell paper itself
  • Moon is not widely known about, so is almost never offered as an alternative format for items such as bills, statements, menus, etc
  • Moon has suffered from a lack of promotion, so the number of Moon readers is low and declining
  • Moon is hardly used outside the UK, so additional resources cannot be brought in from abroad
  • Whereas a "soft braille" display can be linked to a computer in order to know what is on the screen, the Moon equivalent is not available, which is a particular disadvantage to those who cannot use a speech package

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