Louis Braille lived in the French village of Coupvray. Born in 1809, he was the fourth child of a harness maker and his wife. Louis was a bright and curious child. He especially enjoyed watching his father at work. One day, three-year-old Louis decided to try out his father’s awl, a very sharp tool. Unfortunately, he injured his eye. It became infected and when Louis touched the uninjured eye, the infection spread, blinding him.
Louis Braille House, Coupvray, France
Louis’s family and a village priest helped him. His father made a cane so that Louis could walk without assistance. His sisters made an alphabet from straw so that he could learn letters. And the priest read to Louis and taught him to listen to the sounds of birds to recognize them. Louis later went to school with sighted children and listened to and remembered the lessons.
But for Louis, that wasn’t enough. He wanted to read books. When he was ten-years-old, he traveled to Paris to attend the Royal Institution for Blind Youth. The school’s founder had created books with raised letters. But the letters were enormous with only a few sentences or less on a page. The books were not practical.
Then a French army captain named Charles Barbier invented a system of sending messages to soldiers on the field. His system used raised dots so that the soldiers could read the messages without light and not give away their location to the enemy. The army seemed unimpressed, so Barbier sent his system to the Royal Institution for Blind Youth. Louis and the other students recognized right away that this system was not practical. The dots represented sounds not letters. They were difficult for the students to read.
Louis Braille’s Six-Dot Braille System
Louis Braille decided to adapt Barbier’s system and make it practical. He worked for three years to perfect it. By the age of fifteen, he had developed the six-dot Braille System we know today. Each letter of the alphabet uses a different pattern of raised dots. Louis’s system is used in every country in the world.