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Most visually impaired children and adults could not attend school back in the early 19th century. Two Bostonians set out to change that. Dr John Dix Fisher and Dr Samuel Gridley Howe joined with other reform-minded members of Boston's upper class to found what is now the Perkins School for the Blind. Originally called the New England Institute for the Blind, the school became the centre of work in an innovative embossed typeface called Boston Line Type. Among these works is a remarkable atlas that allows blind and partially sighted students to explore the changing landscape of 19th-century America at their fingertips. Early in school, Howe began developing the Boston line type as a solution to the textbook problem. He used a printing press that the school had purchased from him in 1835 and had it converted to a new style of embossing.

Braille was developed in Europe at the same time, but it took decades to become widespread in the United States. Instead,  students at that school, as well as blind and partially sighted Americans elsewhere, now have access to textbooks, novels, and more printed in the Boston Line type. This style has Roman letters tucked into the sides in a raised and tactile manner. Letters are kept simple and lowercase for clarity.

visually impaired people could read the text, albeit slowly, by feeling with their fingers. Braille later proved to be a faster and easier way to learn, but the Boston-style font was revolutionary in terms of accessibility and remained important throughout the nineteenth century. Even Charles Dickens printed 250 copies of his book The Old Curiosity Shop for blind readers in this typeface. Under Howe's direction, the school also produced a fascinating atlas that, at the time of printing, compiled printed descriptions and unique relief maps of the American states that existed in the early 19th century. The 1837 U.S. Atlas showed raised land boundaries, horizontal "shadows" of water, tall rivers, and triangular mountains.
Fifty copies of this remarkable work were published, but only four have survived to this day. However, the map can be viewed visually or a 3D model can be downloaded online. According to the book Touch This Page: Understanding How We Read, the Boston Line font has played a crucial role in many people's lives. Harriet Gamage, one of Perkins' early students, treasured maps like those in this atlas. She wrote to Howe: 'Having a great debt of gratitude to your noble institution for the faculties I may possess, I will name the branches in which I now teach. Reading, spelling, arithmetic, history, geography, maps such as the use of sight which I can explain from a memorable memory and references to my own which are so beautifully embossed.”

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