“Live without seeing, but be what you are”
Louis Braille, at the age of 12, changed the world of reading and writing forever. Six dots and six bumps arranged in various patterns on the page connected the blind to a world they had never known before.
Louis was born 4 January 1809, in the quaint town of Coupvray, France (near Paris). He became blind at the age of 3 years old when, while playing in his father’s harness workshop, Louis grabbed an awl and the tool slipped and hurt his eye. The wound became infected, the infection spread, and sadly, the boy was blinded in both eyes.
But from tragedy came inspiration, as Louis now needed a an entirely new way to learn. Although he remained at his old school for two more years, he was unable to learn everything just by listening. Fortunately, at age 10, Louis received a scholarship to the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris. But even there, teachers simply talked at the students. The school’s library contained fourteen huge books with raised letters that were difficult to read…and Louis grew increasingly impatient to learn.
In 1821, the direction of Louis’ education (and life) was dramatically altered with the arrival of a former soldier named Charles Barbier. Barbier shared his invention called “night writing”–a code of 12 raised dots that allowed soldiers to share top-secret information on the battlefield without
speaking. Unfortunately for the army, the code was too complicated for soldiers, but not for 12-year-old Louis!
Louis reduced Barbier’s 12 dots into 6, completely restructured the system by the time he was 15, and published the first-ever Braille book in 1829. In 1837, he even added symbols for math and music. However, the public remained skeptical, and blind students were forced to study Braille on their own. Even at the Royal Institution–where Louis taught following his graduation–Braille wasn’t offered until after his death.
In fact, it wasn’t until 1868, that Braille began to spread worldwide when a group of British entrepreneurs formed what would later become known as the Royal National Institute for the Blind.
Today, virtually every country in the world uses Braille. Braille signs empower the blind to navigate public spaces and to communicate independently, without needing print.
The life of Louis Braille demonstrates that motivation and perseverance can triumph over the “impossible.”