Posted by: Footler PJ7 JAN 2010
When he was only three years old, Louis Braille became blind in both eyes following an accident in his father’s workshop in the small town of Coupvray near Paris.
When he was 10 years old he gained a scholarship to the Institution Royale des Jeunes Aveugles (Royal Institution for Blind Youth) in Paris. There he met a former soldier, Charles Barbier, who described his invention of “night writing” in which he used patterns of 12 raised dots to enable soldiers to communicate silently in the dark.
It proved too complicated for military use (or for blind children) but the raised dots planted an idea in Louis Braille’s mind.
By the time he was 15 years old Braille had worked out a system using up to six raised dots formed into patterns on a six-position grid to represent letters of the alphabet. His first book written using braille was published in 1829 with the title, ‘Method of writing words, music and plainsong by means of dots for use by the blind and arranged for them’. Clearly the title alone was a challenge for his new system.
People were sceptical at first and even though Braille went on to teach at the Royal Institution the system was not officially accepted in France until after his death in 1852.
Braille now consists of an alphabet of 63 letters and symbols and is used to read music, chemical symbols, numbers and punctuation. Computer software and portable electronic braille note-takers can save and edit writing and then present it either verbally or for touch. Other computer programs are available to transcribe braille into print and vice versa.
Braille can be translated into almost every language in the world and has empowered blind people to lead more independent lives of intellectual freedom and economic self-sufficiency.
A plaque on the wall of the house where Louis Braille was born and brought up reads: “He opened the doors of knowledge to all those who cannot see.” Millions of people are grateful that he did so.
World Braille Day is an annual opportunity for blindness organisations to promote braille literacy, raise public awareness and showcase their work. It is held on 4 January each year to mark the anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille in France on that date in 1809.