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Louis Braille
1809 - 1852
 

 


Louis Braille designed the coding system, based on patterns of raised dots, by which the blind can read through touch.

Braille designed a coding system, based on patterns of raised dots, which the blind could read by touch. Born in Coupvray, France, Braille was accidentally blinded in one eye at the age of three. Within two years, a disease in his other eye left him completely blind.

In 1819, Braille received a scholarship to the Institut National des Jeunes Aveugles (National Institute of Blind Youth), founded by Valentin HaŁy (1745-1822). The same year Braille entered the school, Captain Charles Barbier invented sonography, or nightwriting, a system of embossed symbols used by soldiers to communicate silently at night on the battlefield. Inspired by a lecture Barbier gave at the Institute a few years later, the fifteen-year-old Braille adapted Barbier's system to replace HaŁy's awkward embossed type, which he and his classmates had been obliged to learn.

In his initial study, Braille had experimented with geometric shapes cut from leather as well as with nails and tacks hammered into boards. He finally settled on a fingertip-sized six-dot code, based on the twenty-five letters of the alphabet, which could be recognized with a single contact of one digit. By varying the number and placement of dots, he coded letters, punctuation, numbers, diphthongs, familiar words, scientific symbols, mathematical and musical notation, and capitalization. With the right hand, the reader touched individual dots and, with the left, moved on toward the next line, comprehending as smoothly and rapidly as sighted readers. Using the Braille system, students were also able to take notes and write themes by punching dots into paper with a pointed stylus which was aligned with a metal guide.

At the age of twenty, Braille published a monograph describing the use of his coded system. In 1837, he issued a second publication featuring an expanded system of coding text. Despite the students' favorable response to the Braille code, sighted instructors and school board members, fearing for their jobs should the number of well-educated blind individuals increase, opposed his system.

Braille grew seriously ill with incurable tuberculosis in 1835 and was forced to resign his teaching post. The Braille writing system - though demonstrated at the Paris Exposition of Industry in 1834 and praised by King Louis-Philippe - was not fully accepted until 1854, two years after the inventor's death. The system underwent periodic alteration; the standardized system employed today was first used in the United States in 1860 at the Missouri School for the Blind.
 


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Louis Braille (January 4, 1809 – 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, except Asian languages based on characters.

His father was a saddle maker by the name of Simon-Rene Braille. His mother’s name was Monique Baron-Braille. Louis Braille became blind at the age of 3-4, when he accidentally stabbed himself in the eye with his father's awl. The resulting infection spread to his other eye and eventually blinded him in both eyes.

At the very young age of 10, Braille earned a scholarship to the Institution Royale des Jeunes Aveugles (Royal Institution for Blind Youth) in Paris, one of the first of its kind in the world. The scholarship was his ticket out of the usual fate for the blind, begging for money on the streets of Paris. However, the conditions in the school were not notably better. Braille was served stale bread and water, and students were sometimes abused or locked up as a form of punishment.

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.

In 1821, Charles Barbier, a former soldier, visited the school. Barbier shared his invention called "sonography" 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. Although the code was too difficult for the average soldier, Braille picked it up quickly.

The same year Louis began inventing his raised-dot system with his father's stitching awl, finishing at age 15. 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 1827 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.


Legacy

The significance of the braille system was not identified until 1868, sixteen years after Louis Braille died, when Dr Thomas Rhodes Armitage and a group of four blind men and one woman established the British and Foreign Society for Improving the Embossed Literature of the Blind (later the Royal National Institute of the Blind), which published books in Braille's system.

Braille has been adapted to almost every major national language and is the primary system of written communication for visually impaired persons around the world.

The asteroid 9969 Braille was named in honour of him.

 

 

 

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This web page was last updated on: 09 December, 2008