Before the invention of Braille, blind people didn't have many options for education or employment. Louis Braille's invention of a raised letter system revolutionized the way blind people learn by allowing them to read the written word translated into the Braille system. Although Braille reading and writing was not widely accepted during the inventor's lifetime, it became increasingly recognized. Braille is now used in practically every language around the world.
The Early Years
Braille was born in 1809 in Coupvray, France. His father owned a harness shop, and made leather goods such as reins and saddles for the village horses. One day while playing in his father's shop, 3-year-old Louis tried to punch a hole in a piece of leather with a sharp awl. The tool slipped from his hand and injured his eye. The eye became infected and the infection spread to his other eye. Braille was completely blind by the age of 5.
Furthering His Education
Braille was an intelligent child and his parents wanted to provide him with educational opportunities despite his handicap. He attended the village school and learned well by listening to the teacher's oral lessons. He excelled in his studies and was the best student in the class. Braille later attended the Royal Institute for Blind Youth. The school was in an old, damp building and the meals were meager, but once again Louis Braille excelled in his studies. A French army captain came to the school and introduced a method of communication that he had devised for soldiers to send messages to each other without the need of light or sound. The captain's system consisted of dots and dashes punched into heavy paper. The soldiers found the system difficult to use, but the captain thought the system, known as sonography, might be helpful for blind students. The school was not very excited about the new system, but Braille was eager to learn it.
Developing the Braille System
Braille spent his spare time trying to improve this new way of reading and writing. Braille designed a simpler system of six dots in which combinations of dots and spaces represented letters, numbers and punctuation marks. He worked for three years to improve the system, and by age 15 he had developed the reading and writing system known as Braille. The Braille system allows blind people to read with their fingers using a system of raised dots. Braille is based on a basic unit of code known as a cell. A cell consists of six dots that are numbered. Braille includes 64 combinations of dots that represent combinations of letters and contractions as well as single letters.
From Student to Teacher
Braille remained at the institute and became an assistant teacher. His class was a favorite with the students. He was later promoted to a full-time teaching position at the institution. He spent his spare time copying books into Braille. Louis also excelled in music, and became quite good at playing the piano and organ. He developed a Braille system for musicians so they could read and write music. Braille also went on to create a system called decapoint that consisted of 100 raised dots on a grid for writing letters of the Roman alphabet. The system was created to help blind people communicate easily with individuals who can see. He also collaborated with another student of the Royal Institute for Blind Youth to create a machine known as a raphigraphe for mechanically writing decapoint.
An Early End
Braille died of tuberculosis at the age of 43. He did not live long enough to see the full impact that his invention would make on the world. However, he is remembered as a man with a brilliant mind, whose childhood accident paved the way to assist and educate the blind through his dedication and innovation.
- Library of Congress: Louis Braille: His Legacy and Influence
- Paths to Literacy: The Story of Louis Braille
- Hammill Institute Preservation Project: Louis Braille (1809 - 1852)
- Louis Braille School: Exploring Braille
- National Braille Week: Louis Braille
- Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired: Braille Fact Sheet
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images