Braille – The Language of the Blind

#Braille is a special script invented by Louis Braille that helps blind people to read and write with the help of touch. World Braille Day is celebrated on 4th January every year.

Let’s celebrate Louis Braille and his tireless efforts towards blind literacy.

The Story of Louis Braille

Louis Braille was born in Coupvray, a small town about twenty miles east of Paris, on 4 January 1809. He was the youngest child of the family and had 3 elder siblings.

His father was a leatherman and used to make horse tacks out of leather. At the age of three, Louis Braille was playing around his father’s workshop. He was trying to make holes in a piece of leather with an awl. As the child pressed down hard against the piece of leather, the awl slipped through his hands and severely injured one of his eyes.

He was rushed to a doctor, but at that time no effective treatment was available. He was in great pain and he was even taken to an eye surgeon in Paris, but the eye could not be saved. And unfortunately, his other eye was also affected by a condition called sympathetic ophthalmia.

At a tender age of three years, Louis Braille had to suffer the agony of going completely blind in both eyes.

Blind Education

Louis was a bright child, and in spite of his disability, he prospered under the loving care of his parents. He was able to independently navigate his way across the town with the help of canes.

Owing to his intelligence, he was admitted to one of the first schools for blind children in the world, the Royal Institute for Blind Youth, now renamed to the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris.

Back then, there was a different education system for blind children known as the Haüy System, a technique of using embossed Latin letters designed by the school’s founder Valentin Haüy.

The blind children would use the sense of touch to feel the embossed letters and read the books slowly. However these books were expensive as they were made out of a tedious process of combining copper wires with wet paper.

Here’s a picture of the books Louis Braille used to read

Difficulties with the Haüy System

Braille learned to read with the Haüy books but this system of education provided no scope for the blind to write on their own.

Also the Haüy books were large, uncomfortable, expensive and contained very little information.

The basic problem with this system was that it was trying to teach the blind people to “read with fingers” the “language of the eyes”. But what was really needed was a completely different mode of communication that was designed especially for the blind people.

The Braille System

Louis Braille then decided to design a code system that will help the blind to read as well as write.

“Access to communication in the widest sense is access to knowledge, and that is vitally important for us if we [the blind] are not to go on being despised or patronized by condescending sighted people. We do not need pity, nor do we need to be reminded we are vulnerable. We must be treated as equals – and communication is the way this can be brought about.” – Louis Braille

At the age of 12 years, Braille learned about a communication system designed by Charles Barbier that used a system of dots to represent letters. These were a code for each letter made out of twelve dots in two columns made on thick paper. These dots could be read by fingers.

Braille modified the Barbier system, and reduced the dots from twelve to six thus making it easier for the blind to read. He worked tirelessly to develop a code of each letter of the alphabet and finally at the age of 15 years, his system was complete and he published the first version of it.

Here is a picture of how different communication systems were developed for the blind.

Thereafter, Braille made a few modifications to his own system to make it easier to read and write.

Let’s have a look at the complete Braille Code.

The Braille script eventually gained recognition worldwide and started being used officially to teach children in blind schools.

Braille Musical Notation

The Braille script wasn’t limited to reading and writing only alphabets. It was also later adapted to include musical notations, thus enabling the blind to read and write music notes using Braille.

This adaptation opened a completely new horizon for the visually challenged, empowering to bring forth before the world their art and creativity.

Honors

The invention of Braille Language was truly the work of a genius, that enabled the visually challenged people to live their life at par with the sighted people, and made them truly independent.

In honor of his great work, Braille’s childhood home in Coupvray is a listed historic building and houses the Louis Braille Museum.

Several countries minted postal stamps and coins in the honor of this great man.

India also released a coin of value 2 INR to honor Braille in the year 2009 to celebrate Braille’s 200th Anniversary.

The declining use of Braille in modern times

With the advent of advanced software such as screen readers and voice typing tools, the use of braille script is declining.

However, Braille Language still remains one of the greatest and the most intelligent mode of communication that was invented for the visually deprived.

I have written this article to honor the efforts of Louis Braille and the countless other visually challenged people, who in spite of all their struggle bravely battle blindness and prove that they are no less that sighted people.

I hope you found this article interesting.

If you have any questions, feel free to comment below or email me at neha.pednekar1489@gmail.com

I’ll see you soon in my next blog, till then take good care of your eyes and stay healthy.

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