Louis Braille: The Eye for the Visually Impaired

Louis Braille: The Eye for the Visually Impaired

Prerna Gopinath, Journalist/Editor

Louis Braille was born on January 4, 1809, in Coupvray, France. Louis was the 4th child of Simone-Rene, a saddler, and his wife Monique Braille. At the age of 3, Louis injured one of his eyes with an awl (a tool that is used to make holes in leather) and by the age of 5, both eyes became infected leaving him blind. 

Despite his blindness and the lack of schools for the blind, Braille’s parents wanted him to be educated. He attended a local school where he learned by listening. Louis was a very attentive child and as a reward, he received a scholarship to attend the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris at the age of 10. 

The National Institute was the first blind school and was founded by Valentin Hauy, a man who believed that the blind deserved an education. The school taught Louis much and he learned both academic and vocational abilities. At the institute, he met Charles Barbier who invented a code that represented different sounds using 12 raised dots while serving in the French Army. The system was called Sonography and was used by people who could not see because of the dark and instead read by touching the raised dots. Barbier initially thought it would help soldiers communicate in the night, but upon its failure, Barbier felt that the system would be useful for the blinds. 

At the school, Louis was among the many students who found Sonography helpful but he felt that it was hard to understand and the fact that it represented sounds instead of words was confusing. Louis set out to improve the system and over 3 years (from the age of 12-15) he developed a much simpler system involving only six dots. In his system, he gave each letter or punctuation mark a different set of dots using a total of 64 symbols.

In 1829 Louis published the system. Later at the age of 24, he began teaching in the Institute. In 1837 the school published the first-ever book in Braille; however, not everyone approved. Alexandre François-René Pignier, the school’s former director had supported Braille but Pierre-Armand Dufau banned Braille when he became director of the school in 1840. 

Unfortunately in 1850 when he was 40 Louis Braille was forced to retire due to tuberculosis but his six dot method was becoming more and more popular. After retiring he moved back to his hometown in Coupvray and died on January 6, 1852, in the infirmary of the National Institute for the Blind Youth. 

2 years after Louis’s death Braille was finally introduced to the National Institute where it quickly became popular and spread throughout the world. 

Over the years Braille has become increasingly popular and now there are many forms of Braille technology available. From Braille writing machines to electronic Braille note takers Braille has largely expanded since its creation and has become an important tool in this world.

Braille is a simple 6 dot system of raised dots that can be read with your fingers. It is used by people who are blind or visually impaired. Braille is used by thousands of people around the world. It contains symbols formed within a “braille cell” which consists of 6 raised dots arranged in a 2 by 3 array. Using these 6 dots 64 combinations are made each representing a letter of the alphabet, number, or punctuation mark. Braille is now used in multiple books worldwide.

Contracted Braille is also used. It is when the words are formed by combining all the letters. In this case, 180 different contractions are possible and are used to save paper when printing books and make reading easier. Contracted Braille is generally taught from kindergarten onwards and is the standard in the United States. 

Just like standard writing Braille can be written in several different ways and generally uses a slate and stylus, its version of a pencil and paper. The slate has evenly spaced depressions for the dots and the stylus is used for creating the dots. Paper is placed inside the slate and the dots are created by pressing the pointed end of the stylus against the paper. 

There is also the Braille writer which unlike a typewriter with over 50 keys there are only 9 keys. One for each of the 6 dots that make up a cell, a spacebar, backspace, and a line spacer. One interesting feature is that multiple keys can be pressed at the same time to represent a letter as most of them contain more than one dot. 

As technology advances Braille continues to grow to allow users to do more things than ever before, allowing blind people to read and write as though they can see perfectly. Since its development in 1829, it has widely grown and become more than just a reading system for the blind, it has become a necessity and an effective way to communicate.