Vintage black and white photos of the original location of Braille Institute.

Braille Institute was founded in 1919 by the efforts of one man, J. Robert Atkinson, and has grown enormously in the decades since. Here’s how it all happened:

1912 — An accidental gunshot wound leaves Montana cowboy J. Robert Atkinson blind and without direction. He learns to read braille and soon begins transcribing books for his personal library.

1917 — In less than five years Atkinson has transcribed nearly one million words of ink print into braille.

1919 — Impressed by Atkinson, philanthropist Mary Longyear and her husband John donate $25,000 to help him establish the Universal Braille Press. The fledgling organization occupies several rooms and the garage of his Los Angeles home until 1922.

1924 — Atkinson completes printing in revised braille the King James version of the Bible in 21 volumes.

1926 — First issue of The Braille Mirror published, a braille magazine for adults patterned after The Reader’s Digest format. The magazine is published continuously for 82 years.

1929 — Atkinson’s lobbying efforts result in federal legislation to fund the printing and national distribution of raised-print materials through the Library of Congress Services for the Blind, known currently as the National Library Service (NLS). The Universal Braille Press incorporates as Braille Institute of America, Inc.

1933 — Atkinson moves his organization to 741 North Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles. The headquarters is still there today and now takes up an entire city block.

1934 — Braille Institute joins the NLS and becomes a Branch Library.

1936 — Determined to get more blind people working, Atkinson successfully lobbies for a bill to provide rent-free space for blind vendors in federal office buildings.

1938 — Braille Institute produces the first braille Webster’s dictionary in more than 100 years of braille printing.

1948 — The first edition of a brailled children’s anthology, Expectations, was published as a free gift to blind children. Originally titled Christmas in Story and Verse, it was published continuously for 60 years.

1954 — Visual Aids consultants begin demonstrating magnification devices that help people maximize their existing vision. Volunteers take on a bigger role, with many teaching home management skills in the Institute’s newly expanded facility.

1964 — J. Robert Atkinson passes away at the age of 76.

1968 — Title of annual children’s anthology changed to Expectations.

1971 — Braille Institute’s first regional center opens in Anaheim.

1972 — The first Braille Institute Track and Field Olympics is held at the Youth Center. This recreational program still runs each year.

1973 — A Rancho Mirage Regional Center is opened in rented space.

1983 — A new Santa Barbara Regional Center is dedicated, stretching our services northward to the tri-county area. 

Child Development services are established.

1990 — Our new Rancho Mirage Regional Center opens to meet the needs of people in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

A new Library and Conference Center is dedicated at the Los Angeles facility.

1993 — A San Diego Regional Center is established in leased space near La Jolla. With an eye on the future, Braille Institute acquires a 3.8-acre site to build a new San Diego facility.

1998 — Braille Institute launches its first website at:

1999 — Our new 28,000-square-foot San Diego Regional Center opens in the University Towne Centre area near La Jolla to meet the needs of people in San Diego and Imperial counties.

1999Mobile Solutions— a traveling display of our programs and services — is launched, reaching out to people who are not able to come to one of our five regional centers.

2000 — Sound Solutions, a free series of 14 educational audiotapes presenting practical information for people with vision loss, is released.

First Braille Challenge® is held, for Southern California youths. It is an academic contest designed to encourage blind youngsters to practice their braille skills. It is expanding each year, now including more than 500 youths from across the United States and Canada.

2001 — The student shops get a facelift and a new name—Vistas.

The Braille Press becomes Braille Publishing, to develop and market our press capabilities to a wider client base.

2004 — New Santa Barbara Regional Center dedicated.

Braille Publishing now including recording services and digital formats.

2005 — Our Braille Institute Library is named Network Library of the Year by the National Library Service.

2008 — Braille Institute gets a rebranding facelift, with a new logo, mission statement and reorganization of several departments. Capital Campaign begins for new Orange County Center.

2010Braille Challenge® holds its 10th annual event, highlighting Braille Institute’s dedication to the awareness of braille literacy.

2014 — Connection Pointe is launched in Los Angeles to assist students with utilizing technology.

2016 — Our first neighborhood center is opened in Laguna Hills.

2019 Braille Institute celebrates its centennial anniversary, a major milestone few non-profit organizations achieve. Braille Institute launches a new rebranding campaign with new visual identity, positioning and messaging.

Braille Institute opens a new 14,000 square foot regional center in Anaheim and opens a second neighborhood center in Riverside.

2020 — Braille Challenge celebrates its 20th anniversary of promoting the importance of braille literacy with youth. They host the first-ever remote Braille Challenge Finals due to the COVID-19 pandemic social-distancing mandates.

Braille Institute’s third neighborhood center opens in Coachella Valley.

Braille Institute introduces “distance learning” which enables students to participate in live instructor-led workshops and classes from home by phone or video conference call.

For more information call 1-800-BRAILLE (272-4553) Monday – Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PST).