Louis was born near Paris in 1809.
Louis Braille's father was a shoemaker and Louis often watched
him at work. One day, when Louis was only 4 years old, he crept into his father's shop when his
father was not looking.
Louis thought it would be good fun to
try to make some shoes. As he bent over the leather and set to work,
the awl slipped. It jabbed into his eye and destroyed it. The injury
to his eye became infected. His good eye was infected too, and he lost
sight in both eyes.
||Louis picked up a sharp, pointed tool called
an awl like the one illustrated. It was used to make holes in leather, so that shoes could be
sewn with a needle and thread.
Louis went to school with his friends, but
it soon became obvious that he could not learn much at school because
he could not read and write. This was a problem as in those days he
would have had to become a beggar like all people who were disabled
or who had no jobs. He was lucky though, since he was sent to one of
the first schools in the world for the blind in Paris.
The conditions at Louis' school were very
hard. The school was cold and damp. Students were beaten and given very
little to eat. However, Louis was taught skills such as weaving cane
for baskets and chairs. Each week the teacher would take the boys out
for a walk, tied to each other on a long piece of rope so that they
would not get lost. Louis was taught to read by feeling regular letters
of the alphabet which were raised on the paper. He was not taught how
One day something happened that changed
the boys' lives forever. In 1821 a soldier named Charles Barbier came
to visit the school. He bought with him a system which he had invented
called 'night writing'.
The young Louis Braille quickly realised
how useful this system of raised dots could be, providing he could make
it more simple to learn.
Barbier's Night Writing matrix Source: Wikipedia
|Night writing' had originally been designed
at Napoleon's request, so that soldiers could pass instructions along trenches at night without
having to talk and give their positions away. It consisted of twelve
raised dots which could be combined to represent different sounds. Unfortunately
it proved to be too difficult for soldiers to learn, so the army rejected
to work on the scheme for several years after, developing separate codes
for maths and music. In 1827 the first book in braille was published.
The six dot system
invented by Louis Braille
Over the next few months Louis Braille experimented with
different systems until he found an ideal one using six dots.
You can see how he used these in combination from the Braille alphabet below.
Even so the new system did not catch on immediately. Sighted people
did not understand how useful braille could be and one head teacher
at the school even banned the children from learning it. Fortunately this seemed to have the effect
of encouraging the children even more and they took to learning it in
secret. Eventually even sighted people began to realise the benefits
of the new system.
Not only could people with impaired vision read braille
but they could also write it for themselves using a simple stylus to
make the dots. For the first time they began to be truly independent
and to take control of their own lives.
Louis Braille eventually became a teacher
in the school where he had been a student. He was admired and respected
by his pupils but, unfortunately, he did not live to see his system
Louis had always been plagued by ill health and in 1852,
at the age of 43, he died from tuberculosis. For a while it seemed as if people would
forget his system. Fortunately a few key people had realised the importance
of his invention. In 1868 a group of four blind men, led by Dr Thomas
Armitage , founded an association which grew to become the Royal National
Institute for the Blind, the largest publisher of braille in Europe
and Britain's largest organisation for people with impaired vision.
By 1990 braille was being used in almost
every country in the world and had been adapted to almost every known
language, from Albanian to Zulu.
In France itself, Louis Braille's achievement
was finally recognised by the state. In 1952 his body was moved to Paris
where it was buried in the Pantheon, the home of France's national heroes.