Name: Louis Braille
Featured in: History Heroes CHILDREN
Famous for: developing a system so blind people can read and write
Age when Louis Braille achieved this remarkable feat: 15
Louis Braille has earned his place in History Heroes Children in History because he was just 15 when he developed his system of reading and writing for the blind. It revolutionised education and written communication for blind people throughout the world.
Louis Braille's early life
Louis was born in a small village east of Paris, Coupvray in 1809. He was the bright and bumptious youngest of four siblings born to Monique and Simon-Rene Braille, a farmer and sadler. When he was 3, Louis Braille found himself alone in his father’s workshop, an Aladdin’s cave of dangerous tools. Braille picked up an awl and tried to make a hole with it
in some leather. The awl slipped and struck the boy’s eye, cutting it badly. The eye became infected and the infection spread to Louis Braille’s other eye too. By the age of 5, Louis Braille was completely blind.
The boy, however, was exceedingly bright and still joined the village school at the age of 7. He was soon top of the class simply by listening and remembering everything. When he was 10, Louise Braille’s parents sent him to the world’s first school for the blind in Paris, the Royal Institute for Blind Youth. When Louis Braille was 12, he met Captain Charles Barbier of the French Army. Barbier gave a talk at the school about his system of ‘night writing’: a system of raised dots and dashes that he had created to communicate with his soldiers in the dark. It was too complicated a system for general use but it gave Louis Braille the inspiration he needed. Up until now, the only system for reading for the blind was individual letters raised on a page.
The Braille Alphabet
Over the next three years, Louis Braille developed his system of reading and writing for the blind, using 6 dots. He also added symbols for both mathematics and music. As with so many new and better concepts, Louis Braille’s system of reading and writing took a long time to be recognised and used widely. Louis Braille died in 1852 aged 43. The Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris finally adopted Louis Braille’s system in 1854 at the insistence of the institute’s pupils.
Only in 1952 did the French government recognise Louis Braille’s accomplishments. They exhumed his body from his village cemetery and reburied him in the Pantheon in Paris, alongside so many other French national heroes. The mayor of Coupvray, Louis Braille’s birthplace, refused to give up the village’s hero completely however. He insisted on having Braille’s hands removed and buried in the village cemetery instead.