January 4, 2011

World Braille Day

This day—the birthday of Louis Braille, who invented the system used today so that blind people could read and write—is celebrated internationally.

Braille, who is from France, became blind when he was just three years old. With just six raised dots per letter, he was able to devise a simple, yet sophisticated, system by which blind people could read and write—and he created his system when he was only 15 years old!

Braille's invention has improved social, educational, and economic opportunities for millions of people. It has been adapted to almost every known language in the world.

The Before's and After's of Braille

At the school-for-the-blind that Braille attended as a child, there were just three books. They were incredibly heavy—some books-for-the-blind were over 100 pounds!—and they had raised letters made by pressing paper against copper wire in the shapes of letters. This system made it expensive to publish books-for-the-blind, and it made it impossible for the blind students to write.

When Braille was about 12 years old, a former captain of the French army came to visit the school. He shared a complicated system by which 12 raised dots and a number of dashes could represent writing. Called “night writing,” this was used as a secret code in the military.

The system was too complex for Braille to learn it from that brief exposure, but he was inspired by the idea of raised dots for letters, rather than raised letters—and he was also inspired by the six dots on a die—and within three years he had invented Braille.

Braille added to his system later on—including symbols for mathematics and music.

Within his lifetime, Braille became a well-respected teacher, but his system of writing was not taught at the Institute. Two years after he died (at the youngish age of 43), his system was officially recognized in France. One hundred years after he died, his body was disinterred and honored by being re-interred in the Pantheon in Paris.

For more, go to the Braille Bug site. There are lots of things to read and games play—including seeing your own name in Braille

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