Who Was Louis Braille?
The son of a harness-maker, Louis Braille was blinded by an accident when he was three. Educated at the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris, Braille developed a raised-dot code that enabled blind people to read and write. Although his system was in limited use during his lifetime, it has since been accepted globally. Louis Braille died in 1852.
Early Life and Education
Louis Braille was born on January 4, 1809, in Coupvray, France, the fourth child of Simon-René and Monique Braille. Simon-René Braille made harnesses, saddles and other horse tack.
When Braille was three years old, he injured one of his eyes with an awl (a sharp tool used to make holes in leather). Both his eyes eventually became infected, and by the time Braille was five, he was completely blind. Although there were few options for blind people at that time, Braille's parents wanted their son to be educated. He attended school in their village and learned by listening. An attentive student, when he was 10 years old, he received a scholarship to attend the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris.
The National Institute was the first school of its kind, founded by Valentin Haüy to educate blind students. At the school, Louis learned both academic and vocational skills. He also met Charles Barbier, who while serving In the French army, invented a code that used different combinations of 12 raised dots to represent different sounds. Barbier called the system sonography. Those who could not see would decode the dots by touching them. Its purpose had been for soldiers to communicate silently at night, but since it did not succeed as a military tool, Barbier thought the system might be useful for blind individuals.
Educator and Inventor
Braille was one of many people at the school who found Barbier’s system promising; but he also discovered its shortcomings. It was quite complex (soldiers had had difficulty learning it) and it was based on sounds rather than letters. Braille spent three years—from ages 12 to 15—developing a much simpler system. His system had only six dots — three dots lined up in each of two columns. He assigned different combinations of dots to different letters and punctuation marks, with a total of 64 symbols.
In 1829, Braille published Method of Writing Words, Music, and Plain Songs by Means of Dots for Use by the Blind and Arranged for Them. He became an apprentice teacher at the National Institute for Blind Youth when he was 19, and then a teacher when he was 24. In 1837, the school published the first book in braille. However, Braille’s system proved to be controversial at the institute. The school’s director, Alexandre François-René Pignier, had supported using braille, but Pierre-Armand Dufau banned it when he became director of the school in 1840. Nonetheless, by 1850, when tuberculosis forced Louis Braille to retire from teaching, his six-dot method was well on its way to widespread acceptance.
Louis Braille died of his illness on January 6, 1852, in Paris, France, at the age of 43.
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