Louis Braille (pronounced /ˈbreɪl/ in English, [bʁɑj] in French; January 4, 1809 Ė January 6, 1852) was the inventor of braille, a world-wide system used by blind and visually impaired people for reading and writing. Braille is read by passing the fingers over characters made up of an arrangement of one to six embossed points. It has been adapted to almost every known language.
Louis Braille became blind at the age of 3, when he accidentally stabbed himself in one eye with an awl, one of his father's workshop tools and got an infection, the other eye went blind from the infection spreading to it. At the age of 10, Braille earned a scholarship to the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris, one of the first of its kind in the world. However, the conditions in the school were not notably better. Louis was served stale bread and water, and students were sometimes abused or locked up as a form of punishment.
Read excerpts from Out of Darkness: The Story of Louis Braille by Russell Freedman, free from googlebooks. Braille, a bright and creative student, became a talented cellist and organist in his time at the school, playing the organ for churches all over France.
At the school, the children were taught basic craftsman skills and simple trades. They were also taught how to read by feeling raised letters (a system devised by the school's founder, Valentin HaŁy). However, because the raised letters were made using paper pressed against copper wire, the students never learned to write. Another disadvantage was that the letters weighed a lot and whenever people published books using this system, they put together a book with multiple stories in one in order to save money. This made the books sometimes weigh over a hundred pounds. The school only had 14 books. Louis had read every book.
In 1821, Charles Barbier, a Captain in the French Army, visited the school to show the children his invention, called "Night writing." This was a code of 12 raised dots and a number of dashes that let soldiers share top-secret information on the battlefield without having to speak. The code was too difficult for Louis to understand, and he later changed the number of raised dots to 6 to form what we today call Braille.
The same year Louis began inventing his raised-dot system with his father's stitching awl, finishing at age 15, in 1824. His system used only six dots and corresponded to letters, whereas Barbier's used 12 dots corresponding to sounds. The six-dot system allowed the recognition of letters with a single fingertip apprehending all the dots at once, requiring no movement or repositioning which slowed recognition in systems requiring more dots. These dots consisted of patterns in order to keep the system easy to learn. The Braille system also offered numerous benefits over HaŁy's raised letter method, the most notable being the ability to both read and write an alphabet. Another very notable benefit is that because they were dots just slightly raised, there was a significant difference in make up.
Braille later extended his system to include notation for mathematics and music. The first book in braille was published in 1829 under the title Method of Writing Words, Music, and Plain Songs by Means of Dots, for Use by the Blind and Arranged for Them. 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. Braille and his friend Pierre Foucault went on to develop a machine to speed up the somewhat cumbersome system.
Braille became a well-respected teacher at the Institute. Although he was admired and respected by his pupils, his braille system was not taught at the Institute during his lifetime. The air at the institute was foul and he died in Paris of tuberculosis in 1852 at the age of 43; his body was disinterred in 1952 (the centenary of his death) and honored with re-interment in the Panthťon in Paris. His system was finally, officially recognized in France two years after his death, in 1854. .