Louis Simon Braille (1809 – 1852) was born in Coupvray, France, the fourth child and only son of Simon-René Braille, a saddle and horse tack maker, and his wife Monique.
When Braille was three years old, he injured one of his eyes while playing with his father’s leather making tools. This resulted in both his eyes becoming infected, and by the time Braille was five, he was completely blind. Although there were few options for blind children his parents wanted Braille to be educated, first at the local village school then via a scholarship to attend the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris.
This was the first school of its kind to educate blind students using a combination of oral instruction and raised-print books developed by the school’s founder. Braille did well at his studies and became an accomplished musician. And the crude raised-print books gave Braille the idea that a tactile alphabet would allow blind people to read and write.
In 1821, a retired soldier named Charles Barbier visited the school to share his invention called sonography. This was a complicated code used by soldiers to write and decode messages at night, using a system of twelve raised dots, without having to use a light. The army decided the system was too complicated, however Barbier thought the system might assist blind people.
Braille and some of the other students recognised the possibilities of sonography and over the next three years Braille worked to develop a much simpler system using six dots lined up in two columns of three dots each.
Braille became an apprentice teacher at the school when he was 19 and in 1837 the school published the first book in braille. However, the school did not adopt the system. Nonetheless, by 1850, when tuberculosis forced Louis Braille to retire from teaching, his six-dot method was on its way to widespread acceptance.
Louis Braille died of his illness on January 6, 1852, in Paris, at the age of 43. Today, in most languages, braille is the standard form of communication used by blind people.
“Access to communication in the widest sense is access to knowledge, and that is vitally important for us if we are not to go on being despised or patronised by condescending sighted people. We do not need pity, nor do we need to be reminded that we are vulnerable. We must be treated as equals – and communication is the way we can bring this about.” Louis Braille 1841.
See the EZiD braille label here.