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by Katherine Carter
June 2007

What is Moon?

Moon is a system of raised shapes that allows people who are blind or partially sighted to read by touch.

Lines and curves create nine basic shapes. By rotating or reflecting these shapes in different ways the 26 letters of the alphabet are created. Adding a few dots for punctuation marks and a numeral sign completes what is known as Grade 1 Moon.

Grade 1 Moon alphabet

To increase reading speed and reduce bulk some additional signs were added and a form of shorthand was created. For example, a single symbol represents the letters "ch" and the word "yesterday" is represented by the letters "yd". This slightly more complex system is known as Grade 2 Moon.

There have only been a few changes to the code since it was invented, the biggest being from "old" moon to "new" moon. Old moon was created boustrophedon, meaning it was read from left to right on one line and then back again on the next line from right to left. This avoided having to scan back along the line to find the next one. Due to Moon production in recent years following the standard way of reading, new moon runs from left to right like ordinary print.

Image showing moon being read from left to right, and right to left on alternating lines

History of Moon

The Moon alphabet was invented by Dr. William Moon in 1845. William Moon lost his sight at the age of 21 after being partially sighted throughout his childhood. He learnt all the existing embossed reading systems available at the time but found them unsatisfactory, so he invented his own.

He brought out his first booklet in the new alphabet, 'The Last Days of Polycarp', in 1847, which was followed a month later by "The Last Hours of Cranmer".

News of William Moon's new reading system spread quickly and he was soon overcome with requests for sections of the Bible to be written in Moon. At first, William Moon printed all the documents at his home in Queens Road, Brighton, UK. However, in 1856 he managed to obtain funding from his friend and benfactor Sir Charles Lowther, to set up a printing press and workshop nearby. The Moon Printing Works operated on the same premises until 1960, producing books and magazines in 471 different languages.

William Moon travelled to many parts of the British Isles establishing printing presses, libraries and home teaching socities. After his death in 1894, his daughter Adelaide continued his work. On her death the Moon Works became part of the then National Institute for the Blind.

Who uses Moon?

According to Bundock (2002 p4), in 1991 the RNIB estimated that there were less than 1,000 moon readers in the UK. This number has reduced in the following years so it is now estimated that there are around 400 Moon readers in the UK (Bundock, 2002 p5).

Photograph showing hands reading MoonThe main providers of Moon in the UK are the NLB and the RNIB.

Research carried out by Bundock in 2002 estimated that the NLB had approximately 230 current, individual Moon readers at that time.

Just under half of those NLB Moon readers were aged 75 and over, 23% aged between 65 and 74 years, 20% were aged 45 to 64 years and 9% aged 25 to 44 years. These figures demonstrate that the majority of Moon readers are placed in the elderly age bracket. This fact is supported by Moon Literacy who state that "many octogenarians and nonagenarians are regular readers".

Moon is intended for all blind and partially sighted people of any age, however, as the characters are fairly large and over half the letters bear a strong resemblance to their print equivalent, Moon is particularly suitable for those who lose their sight later in life, for people who have a less keen sense of touch or for people who are discouraged by the effort required to learn Braille. Moon has also been found suitable for children with additional physical or learning difficulties as an aid to acquiring basic literacy skills (Moon Literacy, 2007).

In 1994 the University of Birmingham's project on using Moon as a means to literacy found that children with severe visual impairments and additional learning difficulties were being excluded from any form of literacy. They suggested Moon as the way forward for these children. The RNIB responded by setting up a "Moonbase" resource centre at Rushton, which has since closed. However, "the use of moon for this group of children has increased over the last ten years" and there is now estimated to be "over a hundred children learning Moon in the UK" (Moon Literacy, 2007). This is supported by Wilson (2001 p33), who states that since the National Reading Day in 1999, the "RNIB has sold more than 250 Grade 1 Moon courses".

Advantages of Moon

Disadvantages of Moon

Moon production

There are three main ways of producing moon:


The Moon hand-frame is a simple and low-cost frame of A5 size. It consists of a grid fixed to a rubber base. Plastic film is inserted between the grid and the base. When a Moon letter is written in one of the squares, the plastic film is marked. The Moon characters can be easily distinguished by touch when the film is removed from the frame.

Moon hand-frame

When using the hand-frame the characters should be written in reverse, working from right to left, so that they appear on the right side of the film.

Linear Moon

This method uses swell paper which produces raised images when passed through a heat diffuser. Initially a Word document is created using a Moon font. This document is then printed out, photocopied onto swell paper and then passed through a diffuser. The black lines on the paper absorb the heat and swell up.

Dotty Moon

Another alternative is to produce Moon using a computer, software and an embosser. This is known as Dotty Moon because although the characters are similar to traditional Moon, the lines and curves are dotted instead of smooth and the characters are slightly larger than usual.

To produce Dotty Moon a Word document is created. This is then converted into Moon using specialist software. The file is then sent to the embosser to be printed out.

Further information


Picture acknowledgements


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