a students' magazine / did you know?

Who invented the Braille system?

Some people have great creativity, some are more methodical and some are simply brilliant, just like Louis Braille.

About 200 years ago a curious three-year-old boy called Louis Braille playing in his father’s shop had an accident. His father was a horse tack maker in Coupvray, France, a small town near Paris.

Louis poked his eye with one of the sharp tools on his father’s workbench. The wound became severely infected and the infection then spread through involving both eyes, resulting in the loss of his sight.

During the first few years after his accident, Louis attended a local school, where he learned by listening and memorizing. He was very smart and at the age of ten earned a scholarship to attend the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris. Learning at the Institute consisted primarily in listening to the lessons and repeating them, but the children also had access to a few books. The children were taught how to read by a system devised by the school’s founder, Valentin Haüy. He developed a way to print books with raised letters that could be read by running their fingers across the thick paper. The books were large and heavy and they took a long time to produce and what’s more to be read.

In 1821 a new director, Dr. Pignier, was appointed at the school and a new method was introduced. Charles Barbier, who had invented a system known as night writing for soldiers to send messages in the dark, presented the method that had been renamed Sonography to Dr. Pignier. His technique used regular cells with raised dots. Each cell consisted of dots that represented a sound. As this method was very complicated, Louis Braille thought that it should be based on the alphabet rather than on phonetics. For the next three years Braille worked on his idea and improved his method.

He was fifteen years old when he completed his alphabet, that was based on a six-dot cell that allowed for 63 possible combinations that included accents, capital letters, numbers and punctuation marks. In 1829 the first Braille writing machine was invented and the same year, when he was twenty years old, he published a little book entitled: Method of Writing Words, Music and Plainsong by Means of Dots for Use by the Blind and Arranged for Them. Braille’s fellow students quickly learned his system and, for the first time, they could take notes and write on paper. In addition to this, they could read quicker by scanning a single cell with a single touch of the fingertip. In 1854, two years after Braille’s death, France officially recognized braille as the approved method of reading and writing for blind people, and since then this method has been approved in many other countries. This method nowadays helps blind people in their daily chores, from reading pharmaceutical instructions on packets to crossing the road.

From one small accident Louis ended up changing the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

I hope you enjoyed reading this moving story, see you again soon 😉

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