This system of writing and reading used by many blind people was invented almost 200 years ago. While several types of written communication systems were tried during a ten-year period beginning in 1825, the one invented by a blind teenager was adopted. Some modifications have been made to it over the years but the Braille code in use today is virtually the same as it was in 1834.
Louis Braille was born January 4, 1809, in a small village near Paris. His father, a leather worker, often used sharp tools in his work. While playing in his father’s shop when he was three, Louis injured his eye on an awl. In spite of good care, infection set in and soon left him completely blind.
When Louis grew to school age, he was allowed to sit in the classroom to learn by listening. Louis was very bright and creative, and when he was ten, he was sent to the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris. There too, most instruction was oral, but there were a few books in a kind of raised print developed by the school’s founder. Although frustrated by the large, bulky books and slow reading of the tactile characters, he did well at his studies and dreamed of a better way. At that time, the raised letters were made by pressing shaped copper wire onto paper but there was no way for blind people to write for themselves.
While a student, he began to use his creativity to invent an easy and quick way for blind people to read and write. Louis heard of a system of raised dots developed by a French army captain, Charles Barbier de la Serre. Barbier originally created a code of raised dots and dashes as a way to allow soldiers to write and read messages at night without using a light that might give away their positions. He later adapted the system and presented it to the Institution for Blind Youth, hoping that it would be officially adopted there. It was based on phonetics and consisted of groups of twelve dots arranged in two columns of six dots each.
Louis worked with Barbier’s basic ideas to develop his own simplified system that we know today as braille. He based the code on the normal alphabet and reduced the number of dots by half.
Louis Braille published the first Braille book in 1829. In 1837, he added symbols for math and music. Although Louis Braille went on to become a beloved and respected teacher, was encouraged in his research, and continued to believe in the value of his work, his system of reading and writing with raised dots was nevertheless not very widely accepted in his own time. Louis Braille died of tuberculosis on January 6, 1852.
Today, in virtually every language around the world, the code named after Louis Braille is the standard form of writing and reading used by blind people.