A Brief History of Braille

Louis BrailleLouis Braille was born in Coupvray near Paris on the 4th January 1809. At the age of three he was blinded in the left eye following an accident with an awl (a sharp implement for making holes in leather) from his father's workshop. The right eye also became infected and he was blind by the age of four.

Louis attended the local village school for two years, until he had learnt all he could learn without been able to read or write. At the time the fate of most blind people was to become beggars. Without an education this fate would also await Louis.

At the age of 10 he won a scholarship to a school for blind boys in Paris. Here he learnt to read using a system of raised letters. There were two major problems with this system, it was difficult to distinguish the different letters. The production of the raised letters required a special printing press, so it was not possible for students to write for themselves.

Charles Barbier was faced with the problem of soldiers not been able to read instructions without switching on a light and this giving their position away to the enemy. His solution was to develop a system called 'Night Writing'.

Night writing consisted of two columns of 6 raised dots each representing a sound. The system was too complicated for soldiers to learn and was rejected by the army.

At the age of 12 Louis visited the Institute for the Blind, where he met Charles Barbier. Louis identified that the main problem with Night Writing was that the cells were too complicated for the human finger to read. So he modified the system to use a six dot cell instead of twelve. By the age of 15 he had developed the Braille Alphabet.
A brief history of Braille Continued.

Prior to the development of Braille it was impossible for a blind person to write anything for themselves. Other tactile writing methods required special printing presses. Braille may be produced by hand. Using a "slate" and a "stylus" in which each dot is created from the back of the page.

Braille was met with resistance from sighted educators of the blind as it did not represent printed letters. One headmaster at the school which Louis attended even banned Braille, this prompting the students to learn it in secret. Eventually the benefits of Braille were recognised.

Louis went on to become a teacher at the school and died at the age of 43 in 1852. Like many inventors he didn't live to see his invention widely adopted.

What's New

To mark our 110th Anniversary a new tactile map was unveiled at a special event held on Tuesday 9 May 2017.

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