Louis Braille was merely a boy when he developed a system for educating the blind by touch. The Braille System, named after him, had helped educate all those who are blind over many decades. Born in 1809 in France, Braille became blind by the age of 5. It was through, his intelligence and determination to read that he opened the door of knowledge for all those who could not see.

Early Life and the Fatal Accident


Louis Braille was born in Coupvray, France, on January 4, 1809. He was the fourth and the last child of Simon-René and Monique Braille. He had three elder siblings- Monique Catherine Josephine Braille (b.1793), Louis-Simon Braille (b.1795), and Marie Celine Braille (b.1797). His father had three hectares of land and vineyards. Simon-René also had a successful enterprise as the developer of leather and maker of horse tack.
No sooner had Louis learnt to walk that he began playing in his father's workshop. One day, when Louis was three years old, he was playing with some of his father's tools, trying to make a hole in a piece of leather with an awl. Unconsciously, Louis was squinting too close to the surface and had pressed down hard to drive the point in the leather. Suddenly, the awl pierced the leather with force and at the same time struck the child's eye.
Hearing the agonized scream of the child, his father rushed inside. Immediately, he took the crying child to the local physician who bound and patched the child's eye. He also made arrangements so that Simon-René could take young Louis to a surgeon in Paris tomorrow. However, no treatment was able to save the child's eye. Over the next few weeks after the accident, the child suffered greatly as the infection in the damaged eye spread to the other eye as well.
The infection Louis was able to bear but by the time he was five years of age, he had lost his sight completely in both the eyes. His parents, however, made all efforts to raise him like a normal child. In their affection and care, Louis never felt that he could not see. With the help of the cane that his father made for him, he learnt to navigate around the village and the paths that surrounded the village.


Louis was a bright and intelligent child. Seeing his enthusiasm and ability, his father decided to put him in a school along with the sighted students. By the age of 10, he had learnt all that he was taught at the local school. Louis was an excellent student with an exceptional memory.
In 1819, Braille was sent to study in perhaps one of the first school for blind children, National Institute of Blind Youth situated in Paris. The school was founded by Valentin Haüy. The school wasn't big but it provided blind children an opportunity to learn together.

Haüy System of Education

At the institute, the blind children were taught through a unique method which was invented by the school's founder, Valentin Haüy. Haüy who was not blind had decided to devote his life helping the blind. He had, therefore, designed and formed a small library of books for the blind children. He did so by using a technique of embossing heavy paper with the raised imprints of Latin letters. So, when the children would trace their fingers over the letters they would be able to read what was written on the paper. Louis Braille like the other blind children was able to read through this method but the method had a disadvantage. Though the children could read but they were unable to write. This inability to write struck young Braille. It was more so because he could not write letters back home. Also, he felt that the text they were taught was kept deliberately small.
Meanwhile, the books crafted by Haüy were large and heavy. Though the books were a bit of a bother but they could make the blind read and those with sight could easily understand what was written in them. At that time, as there were lack of schools and books for the blind, the Haüy system was thought to be the best system available for teaching the blind. Also these books provided the best possible result. Braille and his schoolmates, however, could easily see the drawbacks of these books. Nonetheless, Haüy's system had provided a reasonable breakthrough in educating the blind as recognition through the sense of touch proved to be a workable strategy for sightless reading.

Learning to Play Music

Braille read the Haüy books repeatedly and thoroughly. He also paid tremendous attention to the oral instructions given at the school. He excelled in his studies and proved to be a proficient student. No sooner had Braille completed his studies that he was asked to stay behind and become a teacher at the school. So, in 1883, Braille had become one of the teachers at the school. He continued to teach history, geometry and algebra at the school to the end of his life.
Braille also had a keen ear for music. So, he also learnt to play organ and the cello. He was so accomplished in playing music that he played organ for churches all over France.

Night Writing

While, Braille was studying at the institute, he heard of a system developed by Captain Charles Barbier in 1821. The system developed by the captain was called "night writing". According to the system, embossed symbols stood out of the surface. The symbols could only be understood by tracing fingers on the symbols. It thus became a coded method for the soldiers to send information silently at night on the battlefield. As luck would have it, Captain Charles Barbier visited the institute and Braille was inspired by the lecture that the captain gave about the "night writing". His system was coded and consisted of dots and dashes that were impressed on thick paper. Though Braille thought that the system of the captain was a bit complex but nonetheless it inspired him to form his own system of reading and writing for the blind. The system that he developed replaced the embossed books available at the institute.

Developing the Braille System

Braille was determined to develop a system of reading and writing that would help decrease the gap between the blind and the sighted. Inspired by the system developed by Captain Barbier, Braille had developed his own system in 1824. He was merely 15 years of age. Braille had developed his own system by simplifying the form though increasing the efficiency of the system of "night writing". His system was based on the twenty- six letters of the alphabet. Braille reduced the number of dots from twelve to six and placed the letters in a uniform order for better recognition. He published his system in 1829. Later, by 1837, he even removed the dashes that were used by the captain as they were difficult to understand. Like the captain's system, fingers needed to be traced over the symbols to understand and read them.


By changing the number and placement of dots, Braille coded letters, punctuation, numbers, familiar words, scientific symbols, mathematical and musical notation, and capitalization. This method proved to be immensely useful as the readers understood and grasped the letter quickly. Using the Braille system, enabled the students to take notes and even write by punching dots into the paper with a pointed instrument. King Louis Philippe was greatly impressed by the Braille system after he had seen the public demonstration of the system at the Paris Exposition of Industry in 1834. Braille's fellow students meanwhile loved this new system. In no time this system was so popular that sighted instructors and school boards grew worried that soon the educated blind individuals would take away their jobs. They thus remained stuck with Haüy's embossed-letter system.

Later Life

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. He even helped his friend Pierre Foucault in developing a device that could emboss letters like a typewriter. Foucault's machine became a great success during the 1855 World's Fair in Paris.
Though Braille was admired and respected by his pupils, his writing system could not become part of the institute curriculum until after his death.
The successors of Valentin Haüy, did not show any interest in adopting the Braille system. Dr. Alexandre François-René Pignier, headmaster at the school, was dismissed when he had a history book translated into braille.
Meanwhile, after an ailing health which worsened with age due to a lung infection, Braille left his job as a teacher in 1840. When his condition worsened still, he was taken back to his family home in Coupvray. He died at his home in 1852, two days after he had turned forty-three

Recognition After Death

Shortly before Braille's death, a former student of Braille who was a blind musician, performed in Paris, France. During his performance she let the audience know that all that she had learnt was through the Braille system developed for the blind. This created renewed interest in and a revival of the Braille system. However, the system as only fully adopted in 1854, two years after Louis Braille's death. The system, however, is still is use though with some modifications from time to time.

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