About 150 years ago, a system of embossed writing was launched which has stood the test of time. Almost everyone has heard of Louis Braille, whereas one of our own countrymen is comparatively unknown. But over the past 125 years, thousands of blind people have had the pleasure of reading for themselves using the embossed letters invented by Dr Moon.
Those who lose their reading sight in later life often find they lack the sensitivity of touch to decipher the small dots of the braille code. They are much happier with the smooth, bold shapes of the embossed letters invented by Dr Moon.
Although William spent most of his life in Brighton, he was born in Hurstmondharn, a small village in Kent. In 1822, a virulent strain of scarlet fever swept through the village, and four-year-old William was one of the victims. He lost the sight of his right eye and the other eye was also damaged.
Shortly after this, the family moved to Brighton, where his father died at an early age. His mother – a strong, determined woman – saw that William had a happy, normal life despite his poor sight. He did well at school, having an exceptionally good memory. Deeply religious, he started to study for the Ministry, but at the age of twenty he became totally blind, and realised he must relinquish his ambition.
Wasting no time in self-pity, he studied the four systems of embossed writing available at that time, and when he was proficient he taught other blind people to read. His first student was in her thirties, but he was keen to teach children so that they could be educated alongside their peers. Lessons were given in his mother’s home until other premises were found.
In his spare time, William was trying to work out a simpler, less cumbersome form of embossed writing. But much of his leisure time was connected with the church. In 1842, he married Mary – (against Mary’s father’s wishes) a girl who sang with him in the choir. Mary’s father may have felt that William’s financial prospects were inadequate.
As luck would have it, the year after their marriage there was a period of very severe weather conditions, and William’s pupils were unable to attend school. As a consequence his salary was cut. Mary’s embroidery shop was losing money, and their lodger failed to pay the rent. For the next few years Williams suffered severe financial hardship, often going without food in order to support his wife and two children and pay for the plates needed for his old printing press.
In 1845, William Moon presented his students with his new system. It was an instant success. Soon he was receiving requests for both biblical texts and secular material, not only from this country but from all over the world. At the time of his death in 1894, books in Moon type were available in 476 languages.