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Louis Braille | How A Teen Created Braille, An Alphabet For The Blind


photo of a statue of louis braille

Louis Braille was only a teenager when he invented one of the most life-changing inventions: braille. He created an alphabet for blind people to read while being blind himself. This is the story of how he became blind and how he invented a way for blind people to read...


a photo of a raised letter book, used by blind people before braille

How Did Blind People Read Before Braille?

Before Louis invented braille, blind people were expected to read by tracing raised letters, typically made from wire. Very few books were made like this, and they were also slow to read. So, braille was revolutionary because students could now learn easier and read faster.



Louis Braille's Early Life

a photo of a leather awl

How Did Louis Braille Go Blind?

Louis was born on January 4, 1809, in Coupvray, France. His parents worked with leather and made harnesses and saddles for horses. One day when he was three, while his parents were working, he was playing with an awl, a pointy tool used to make holes in leather, and it slipped and injured his right eye. Both eyes became infected, and by the age of five, he had become blind as a result.


His parents, wanting Louis to receive an education, sent him to school, where he learned by listening. Despite his blindness, he was a dedicated student and an excellent organist. He won a scholarship at the age of ten and was on his way to the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris. In the early 1800s, this school was unique and one of the first institutes for the blind.

charles barbier's 12 dot combination system, inspired louis braille to create the braille alphabet

In Paris, Louis Braille met Charles Barbier. Barbier was an officer in the French Army, and in the army, he created a communication system with multiple combinations of 12 raised dots. Originally, it was to help soldiers communicate silently at night, but it was really complicated and didn’t catch on. So Barbier introduced it to the Institute, hoping it could help them. This system of raised dots inspired a twelve-year-old Louis, who thought that this could be the solution for blind people.


How Did Louis Braille Create Braille?

So, for the next three years, Louis spent every minute he could outside of class building on Barbier’s 12-dot combination and eventually creating his own 6-dot combination. Ironically, he used an awl similar to the one that blinded him in the first place. With three dots in two columns, he created combinations to represent letters, numbers, and punctuation marks, creating 64 unique symbols.


the braille alphabet

He introduced his system to other people in 1824. He began teaching at the institute two years later. Five years after introducing braille for the first time, he published Method of Writing Words, Music, and Plain Songs by Means of Dots for Use by the Blind and Arranged for Them in 1829.


Why Was Braille Controversial?

Despite its revolutionary creation, braille was hugely controversial at the Institute. The director of the school, Alexandre François-René Pignier, supported it. However, in 1840, when Pierre-Armand Dufau became the director, he banned it. He feared that with the introduction of braille, blind people would no longer need sighted people to help them, which could potentially mean the end of the Institute.


Louis, in the years he attended, then taught, at the institute, continued to be a talented musician, writer, and teacher. Unfortunately, in 1850, he was infected with tuberculosis and forced to retire. He died soon after, at the age of 43.



Legacy of Louis Braille

A century after his death, Louis’ body was interred at the Pantheon, the resting place for France’s most honored citizens. However, his hands were kept in his hometown of Coupvray.


As mentioned before, blind people were expected to read as effectively as sighted people, although many didn’t have access to easy-reading material. Although braille was not widely used at first, it eventually became the primary means of communication for blind people. According to Braillists.org,

Most high profile blind people identify braille as being a key reason in their success. And many blindness organisations across the globe identify a strong link between braille literacy and the independence and opportunity of blind people.

So thanks to Louis, blind people all over the world now have equal access to learning and being informed.



 


a black and white illustration of louis braille, the creator of the braille alphabet
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