Louis Braille (English pronunciation: /ˈbreɪl/; French: [lwi bʁɑj]) (January 4, 1809 – January 6, 1852) was the inventor of braille, a worldwide 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' father was a saddle maker by the name of Simon-Rene Braille. His mother’s name was Monique Baron-Braille. At the age of three, while playing in his father's shop, young Louis was struck in the eye by an awl (a pointed tool for piercing holes in leather or wood). Within weeks of the accident, an eye infection took away his sight completely.
At the age of 10, Braille earned a scholarship to the National Institute for the Blind 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.
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 Haüy). 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 had just 3 books, all of which Louis had read.
Development of the Braille System
In 1821, Charles Barbier, a former Captain in the French Army, visited the school. Barbier shared his invention called "night writing", 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 Braille began inventing his raised-dot system with his father's stitching awl, the same implement with which he had blinded himself, finishing at age 15, in 1824. Inspired by the wooden dice his father gave to him, his system used only six dots and corresponded to letters, whereas Barbier's used 12. 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 Haüy'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.
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