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Happy Birthday Louis Braille

Portrait of Louis BrailleIn honor of World Braille Day, celebrated on January 4th, we’d like to share a brief history and a few fun facts about the man who invented the braille communication system.

Louis Braille was a Frenchman who lost his eyesight as a child when he accidentally stabbed himself in the eye with his father’s awl. From the age of 10, he spent time at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in France, where he formulated and perfected the system of raised dots that eventually became known as Braille.

Braille completed his work, developing a code based on cells with six dots, making it possible for a fingertip to feel the entire cell unit with one touch and moving quickly from one cell to the next. Eventually, Braille slowly came to be accepted throughout the world as the main form of written information for blind people. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the opportunity to see how useful his invention had become. He died in 1852 at just forty-three, after a long battle with a respiratory condition (believed to be tuberculosis). Just two years, his language system was finally adopted by the Royal Institute for the Blind, thanks to overwhelming demand from its students.

Braille’s marvelous aid opened up a world of accessibility to the blind and visually impaired, and was recognized by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). In November 2018, January 4 was declared World Braille Day. The first-ever World Braille Day was commemorated the following year and it is celebrated as an international holiday.

Want to know more? Here are a few facts about Braille that you might not know about:

  • Braille started as military code. Origins of Braille come from the French army in 1819. Soldiers created a military code called ‘night writing’ so they could communicate in darkness without speaking. As a young boy, Louis Braille learned about ‘night writing’ and at the age of 15 developed a more usable and streamlined version of the Braille alphabet as the military code was too complicated.
  • Braille was initially written with the same tool that blinded its inventor. Louis Braille wasn’t born blind. His father was a leatherer, and as a young child, would play in his father’s workshop. Aged three, he was trying to make holes in leather with an awl, but it slipped and struck him in the eye. The injury, agony and subsequent infection meant he was completely blind by the age of five. As a teenager, when he was developing his raised-dot system, he used another awl to create the indents in the paper.
  • Braille is not a language, but is a tactile alphabet that can be used to write almost any language and is available in Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, Spanish, and more. Additionally, there’s a unique version of Braille specifically for mathematics and science, called the Nemeth Code. Blind musicians also read music in Braille, which uses the same six-dot cell, but features its own syntax and translations.
  • Classic family games, such as Uno, Monopoly, and LEGO are available in braille versions. There’s even a Rubik’s Cube in Braille. If the classic color-coded Rubik’s Cube isn’t tricky enough for you, there’s also a version available in Braille, which is so popular it’s currently sold out.
  • Braille takes up more space than the traditional alphabet, so braille books are much larger than their print counterparts. “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” is ten volumes in Braille, and “Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary” is 72 volumes.
  • While a sighted person can read 300 words per minute, some fast braille readers can whip through a book at a speed of 400 words per minute.
  • The Braille Institute hosts the Braille Challenge each year throughout the United States, Canada and United Kingdom. This is the only academic challenge of its kind to help motivate students to practice and hone their braille literacy skills. Students who are blind and visually impaired, from first through twelfth grades, are tested on fundamental braille skills such as reading comprehension, spelling, speed and accuracy, proofreading, along with charts and graphs.

Happy birthday to Louis Braille! To celebrate World Braille Day with us, let’s honor the amazing gift of communication he left as his legacy and help raise awareness for individuals who are blind and visually impaired.

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