Blind World Magazine

Louis Braille helped them read.




January 13, 2006.
Deccan Herald - Bangalore,India.




Close your eyes and try to read this page. How do you feel? Frustrating, is not it? That was how the blind felt until Louis Braille came on the scene. He was born in a small town called Coupvray in France on January 4, 1809. His father was Simon-Rene Braille and mother Monique Baron-Braille. When Louis was just three-years-old, he lost his eyesight due to an accident. Though blind, he could still join school along with the other children


Louis had a great memory. He would sit attentive in the class, listen carefully to what the teacher said. But the saddest time for him was when the teacher asked the students to take out their books and follow a lesson. The sound of the pages turning used to thrill him. He would run his hand over the pages. He knew that there were words packed with information and knowledge that he yearned to explore, but unfortunately could not. He couldn’t learn all that just by listening. There must be some way that the blind could also read and write, he thought desperately.


After a few years, he was admitted into The Royal Institute for the Blind in Paris, where blind students were taught to read and write. Louis was very excited. But that did not last long. In those days, blind students were taught reading by a system known as ‘embossing’. The letters of the alphabet were embossed on thick sheets of wax paper. The raised impression produced on the other side of the paper could be ‘read’ by tracing the outlines with the fingers. However, the reading process was too slow, even for a bright student like Louis. It would take months to read a book. “This isn’t reading,” Louis cried in frustration.


Then one day, in the spring of 1821, a visitor named Captain Charles Barbier came to the Institute. The captain had developed a method by which sailors and soldiers could send and read messages in the dark by punching raised dots into a thick sheet of paper with a stylus. After turning over the paper, the message could be read by feeling the dots with fingertips. However, there were no codes for numbers, comma, semicolon, periods, exclamation and question marks. It was okay for small messages, but not good enough to write books for the blind.


But the idea of raised dots was stuck in Louis’s mind. Determined to invent an easy way for the blind to read and write, he worked day and night, experimenting with different patterns of raised dots, but without success.


One day in 1824, when he was just fifteen years old, he had a brilliant idea. In Captain Barbier’s system, a word was broken down into sounds and each sound was represented by a unique pattern of raised dots. Instead of sounds, what if the patterns represent the letters of the alphabet, he asked himself. Louis arranged six dots in two columns and identified them with position numbers 1 to 6. He could make sixty-three different combinations from these six dots, enough for each letter of the alphabet, numbers, punctuation marks, mathematical symbols, etc. For example, a single dot punched in position 1 represented the letter A, dots in positions 1&2 for B and so on. Then he ran his fingers on the raised dot alphabet. It was so simple; he could not believe it! Other students too quickly learnt the raised dots. However, there were many sighted people who were opposed to it. It took almost twenty years for the French government to adopt the new script to teach the blind.


In the meantime, Louis Braille worked hard against all odds to produce books for the blind with his own hands. Hard work and unhealthy living conditions in the Institute took their toll. Exhausted, he died of tuberculosis on January 6, 1852 at the age of 43.


His sacrifices were not in vain. Today, his system, known as the Braille script, has been adapted to almost all languages of the world, including many Indian ones. The script has been well adapted to mechanical typewriters and computer software as well. There are books and magazines on literature, science, technology, medicine, fine arts - any subject one can think of, written in Braille script. With the help of these books, blind people have been able to enter the mainstream of society as doctors, teachers, musicians, scientists, technologists, etc. Every January 4, the world pays homage to Louis Braille by observing it as the World Blind Day.



Source URL: http://www.deccanherald.com/deccanherald/jan132006/sesame1831222006112.asp.




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