Louis Braille, French teacher of the blind and inventor of braille sadly passed away on 6th January 1852. Born 4 January 1809 in Coupvray, France, a small town located east of Paris. He had an unfortunate accident At the age of three when he was toying with some of the tools, trying to make holes in a piece of leather with an awl. Squinting closely at the surface, he pressed down hard to drive the point in, and the awl glanced across the tough leather and struck him in one of his eyes. A local physician bound and patched the affected eye and even arranged for Louis to be met the next day in Paris by a highly-respected surgeon, but no treatment could save the damaged organ. In agony, the young boy suffered for weeks as the wound became severely infected and spread to his other eye and by the age of five he was completely blind in both eyes. He learned to navigate the village and country paths with canes his father hewed for him, and he grew up seemingly at peace with his disability. His bright and creative mind impressed the local teachers and priests, and he was encouraged to seek higher education. Braille studied in Coupvray until the age of ten.
Because of his combination of intelligence and diligence, Braille was permitted to attend one of the first schools for blind children in the world, the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris. The school was an underfunded, ramshackle affair, but it provided a stable environment for blind children to learn and associate together. The children were taught how to read by a system devised by the school’s founder, Valentin Haüy. Not blind himself, Haüy was a committed philanthropist who devoted his life to helping the blind. He designed and manufactured a small library of books for the children using a technique of embossing heavy paper with the raised imprints of Latin letters. Readers would trace their fingers over the text, comprehending slowly but in a traditional fashion which Haüy could appreciate.
Braille was helped by the Haüy books, but he also despaired over their lack of depth: the amount of information kept in such books was necessarily small. Because the raised letters were made using a complex process, the children could not hope to “write” by themselves. The handcrafted Haüy books all came in uncomfortable sizes and weights, were laboriously constructed, exquisitely delicate, and greatly expensive to obtain. Haüy promoted their use with zeal: the books presented a new and handsome system which could be readily comprehended by those with eyesight. Braille and his schoolmates, however, could detect the books’ limitations. Nonetheless, Haüy’s well-intentioned efforts still provided a breakthrough achievement – the recognition of the sense of touch as a workable strategy for sightless reading. Braille proved to be a highly proficient student and, after he had exhausted the school’s curriculum, he was immediately asked to remain as a teacher’s aide. By 1833, he was elevated to a full professorship. For much of the rest of his life, Braille stayed at the Institute where he taught history, geometry, and algebra. Braille’s ear for music also enabled him to become an accomplished cellist and organist, his musical talents led him to play the organ for churches all over France. He held the position of organist in Paris at the Church of Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs and the Church of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul. Braille was determined to fashion a system of reading and writing that could bridge the critical gap in communication between the sighted and the blind. In 1821, Braille learned of a communication system devised by Captain Charles Barbier of the French Army. Barbier willingly shared his invention called “night writing” which was a code of dots and dashes impressed into thick paper. which could be interpreted entirely by the fingers, letting soldiers share information on the battlefield without having light or needing to speak.
The captain’s code turned out to be too complex to use in its original military form, but it inspired Braille to develop a system of his own and he worked tirelessly on his ideas, which were largely completed by 1824, when he was just fifteen years of age. From Barbier’s night writing, he innovated by simplifying its form and maximizing its efficiency. He made uniform columns for each letter, and he reduced the twelve raised dots to six. He published his system in 1829, and by the second edition in 1837 had discarded the dashes because they were too difficult to read. Crucially, Braille’s smaller cells were capable of being recognized as letters with a single touch of a finger. Braille created his own raised-dot system by using an awl, the same kind of implement which had blinded him. In the process of designing his system, he also designed an ergonomic interface for using it, based on Barbier’s own slate and stylus tools which would keep the lines straight and readable. he system was later extended to include braille musical notation. Passionate about his own music, Braille took meticulous care in its planning to ensure that the musical code would be “flexible enough to meet the unique requirements of any instrument. In 1829, he published the first book about his system,Method of Writing Words, Music, and Plain Songs by Means of Dots, for Use by the Blind and Arranged for Them. Ironically this book was first printed by using the Haüy system. In 1839, Braille published details of a method he had developed for communication with sighted people, using patterns of dots to approximate the shape of printed symbols. his friend Pierre Foucault was also working on the development of a device that could emboss letters in the manner of a typewriter.
Braille had always been a sickly child, and his condition worsened in adulthood. A persistent respiratory illness, long believed to be tuberculosis, dogged him, and by the age of forty, he was forced to relinquish his position as a teacher. When his condition reached mortal danger, he was taken back to his family home in Coupvray, where he passed away on 6th January 1852, two days after he had reached the age of forty-three. Through the overwhelming insistence of the blind pupils, Braille’s system was finally adopted by the Institute in 1854. The system spread throughout the French-speaking world, but was slower to expand in other places. In the Netherlands though, braille was already taught at the institute for the blind in Amsterdam at least as early as 1846. braille was officially adopted by schools for the blind in the United States in 1916, and a universal braille code for English was formalized in 1932. New variations in braille technology continue to grow, including such innovations as braille computer terminals; RoboBraille email delivery service; and Nemeth Braille, a comprehensive system for mathematical and scientific notation. Braille’s revolutionary form of communication that transcended blindness and transformed the lives of millions. After two centuries, the braille system remains an invaluable tool of learning and communication for the blind, and it has been adapted for languages worldwide.