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The Story of Braille

At one time, not all that long ago, people thought that the only way to read was to look at words with your eyes.

A French youngster names Louis Braille believed otherwise. Louis, was blind from the age of three but wanted desperately to learn to read. Braille was born on January 4, 1809 in rural France in the town of Coupvray, between the Brie region and the Champagne district near Paris. Louis' father was a leather smith, making horse harnesses and other goods and often used sharp leatherworking tools to cut and punch holes in the leather. One of the tools he used is called an awl, which looks like a pointed stick with a round wooden handle.

While playing with one of his father's awls Louis' hand slipped and he accidentally poked himself in the eye. 

 At first this didn't seem like too serious of an accident but later it became infected and the infection spread to both eyes, resulting in loss of sight in both.

As time passed Louis leaned to adapt and to lead what would be an otherwise normal existence, going to school with his friends and doing well in his studies. Louis was creative and intelligent and not about to let his disability compromise him. As he grew older he realized that the small school he attended was under-financed to provide the resources he needed to gain an adequate education. He had heard of a school in Paris specifically for sightless students and, at the age of ten, left for Paris to gain the quality education he desired.

Arriving at the special school Louis inquired about books for blind students and found that they did have books, fourteen of them to be exact. They were constructed of large, raised letters which resulted in them being large and bulky and also very expensive.

After reading all of the fourteen books, a time-consuming and tedious process, he knew that there must be a more effective, efficient way for a blind person to read words on a page as quickly as a sighted person. That very day he set a goal for himself of devising an alphabet code that would allow "finger reading" to be as quick and easy as sighted reading.

Louis, being a tremendously talented and creative person, had learned to play piano and organ at a young age. He was, at that time, playing the organ in churches all over Paris and music had become a fairly steady source of income. His musical talents had shown that he could accomplish pretty much anything he set his mind to if given the chance. One day that chance presented itself.

In 1821, French army Captain Charles Barbier de la Serre visited the institute and spoke about his invention called "Night Writing", or "sonography", consisting of an alphabet code that was being used by the soldiers of the French army. It was used to deliver messages at night from officers to the soldiers, devised because typical written words would've demanded lighting a match to read, which would give away their positions to the enemy.

The code was made up of small dashes and dots, raised up off the paper and read by running their fingers over them. Once the soldiers had learned the code they could read their commanders' orders. Louis got his hands on some of the code and found that it was much more effective than reading the huge books with the large raised letters. Better, but still awkward and slow. The dashes took up too much space on each page, allowing only a couple of sentences per page, and Louis knew that he could improve on the method. He liked the concept of the raised dots but knew that, to be effective, he needed to find a way to do away with the dashes.

One day, at home with his parents on a school holiday, he sat in his father's leatherworking shop and picked up one of the blunt awls. The concept came to him. The very object that had caused his blindness could be utilized to make a raised dot on paper that would allow him, once again, to read. Over a period of a few days he devised an alphabet constructed entirely of six dots in different configurations, the position of each dot determining the letter of the alphabet it represented.

With the awl he punched out sentences on paper that could be quickly read with the fingers and with that came the birth of the Braille system.

Louis Braille died on January 6, 1852 and is buried in the Pantheon in France as a French National Hero.

Valley Braille Service, Inc. is your one-stop source for braille books, braille music, Nemeth math braille, braille sheet music, braille transcription and braille translation. We inventory a large selection of braille publications and are proud to be of service to the blind and vision impaired communities.


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