What is Braille?
Braille is an arrangement of clusters of six points, some of which are raised, representing letters, sounds and words. The fingertips are passed over the embossed dots enabling the reader to feel the points. This process means that a visually impaired or blind person who understands the significance of the patterns at his/her fingertips can read.
Who was Louis Braille?
Louis Braille was a Frenchman. Born in 1809, he was a normally-sighted baby. Unfortunately he lost his sight three years later when his eyes became infected after an accident. Seven years later he won a scholarship to the National Institute for the Blind in Paris where he learned to play musical instruments. He was an intelligent student and soon went on to play the organ in churches all round the country.
The school was a leader in the field of teaching the blind and its founder had invented a system of raised letters on paper in order to teach blind children to read. There were drawbacks to this method, however. The books were large and unwieldy, and although the children learned to read they did not learn to write.
Fortunately this situation was soon to change. In 1821 a former officer of the French Army paid a visit to the school. His name was Charles Barbier and he had been commanded by Napoleon to invent a system for writing at night, silently and without light, for use in the French Army. Barbier had come up with a system of twelve dots and dashes, raised on paper. The code had not taken off very well, however, as it was too difficult to learn. Nevertheless he told the institute about it and the idea sparked Louis Braille’s creative abilities. He quickly spotted the flaw in Barbier’s system and set about simplifying the code to six dots which made it much easier to learn to use. The beauty of Braille’s system lay in the fact that the fingertip did not need to move around in order to trace out each letter or cover a 12-dot cluster – the pattern of just six raised dots could be read with one touch. Also, blind people could write as well as read with this method.
Louis Braille worked tirelessly on his system until he completed it in the mid 1820s, while still in his teens. In later years he widened the scope of the code so that both music and mathematics could be read and produced with it. By 1830 the first book in Braille had been published.
In adulthood Louis Braille stayed on at the Institute as a teacher though he didn’t teach his system for reading and writing to the children there – ‘Braille’ had yet to catch on officially. In 1852 he succumbed to tuberculosis and died. Just two years later his code of raised dots was given official recognition as the system to be used when teaching literacy to the blind.
Exactly one hundred years after his death Louis Braille’s remains were transferred to the Panthéon in Paris, re-interred and accorded the honours the inventor of a reading and writing system for the blind deserved. In spite of the fact that the use of Braille is declining nowadays due to advances in technology, Louis Braille’s place in history is assured.
See also: More important problems to deal with than blindness?
Quick Quiz: Read the clues below and write the solutions on a piece of paper. Then take the first letter of each answer and rearrange them to find the hidden word connected with this Talking Point.
1. He lost his sight three years later when his eyes became infected after an __________.
2. The school was a __________ in the field of teaching the blind.
3. There were __________ to this method, however.
4. A former officer of the French Army paid a visit to the school whose name was Charles __________.
5. He had been commanded by Napoleon to invent a system for writing at __________, silently and without light.
6. Barbier had come up with a system of twelve dots and __________, raised on paper.
7. The beauty of Braille’s system lay __________ the fact that the fingertip did not need to move around in order to trace out each letter or cover a 12-dot cluster.
8. Louis Braille worked tirelessly on his system until he completed it in the mid 1820s, while still in his __________.
9. __________ one hundred years after his death Louis Braille’s remains were transferred to the Panthéon in Paris.