Louis Braille was born January 4, 1809 in Coupvray, near Paris, France and died on January 6, 1852 in Paris. He French educator who developed a system of printing and writing, called Braille, that is extensively used by the blind. Braille was himself blinded at the age of three in an accident that occurred while he was playing with tools in his father’s harness shop. A tool slipped and plunged into his right eye. Sympathetic ophthalmia and total blindness followed. Nevertheless, he became a notable musician and excelled as an organist. Upon receiving a scholarship, he went in 1819 to Paris to attend the National Institute for Blind Children, and from 1826 he taught there. Braille became interested in a system of writing, exhibited at the school by Charles Barbier, in which a message coded in dots symbolizing phonetic sounds was embossed on cardboard. When he was 15, he worked out an adaptation, written with a simple instrument, that met the needs of the sightless. He later took this system, which consists of a six-dot code in various combinations, and adapted it to musical notation. He published a treatise on his type system in 1829, and in 1837 he published a three-volume Braille edition of a popular history schoolbook. Louis Braille is the creator of braille – a code that enables blind and visually impaired people to read and write independently. His transformative system is still used today by people who have a visual impairment. Over the years, braille technology has developed in the form of braille writing machines – typewriters with keys that transfer the braille alphabet onto paper – to modern day electronic braille note-takers and braille translation software. Braille is a tactile writing system used by people who are visually impaired, including people who are blind, deafblind or who have low vision. It can be read either on embossed paper or by using refreshable braille displays that connect to computers and Smartphone devices. Braille is a system of raised dots that can be read with the fingers by people who are blind or who have low vision. Teachers, parents, and others who are not visually impaired ordinarily read braille with their eyes. Braille is not a language. Rather, it is a code by which many languages—such as English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and dozens of others—may be written and read. Braille is used by thousands of people all over the world in their native languages, and provides a means of literacy for all. Braille symbols are formed within units of space known as braille cells. A full braille cell consists of six raised dots arranged in two parallel rows each having three dots. The dot positions are identified by numbers from one through six. Sixty-four combinations are possible using one or more of these six dots. A single cell can be used to represent an alphabet letter, number, punctuation mark, or even a whole word.
Braille is also produced by a machine known as a braillewriter. Unlike a typewriter which has more than fifty keys, the braillewriter has only six keys, a space bar, a line spacer, and a backspace. The six main keys are numbered to correspond with the six dots of a braille cell. Because most braille symbols contain more than a single dot, combinations of the braillewriter keys can be pushed at the same time. Technological developments in the computer industry have provided and continue to expand additional avenues of literacy for braille users. Software programs and portable electronic braille devices allow users to save and edit their writing, have it displayed back to them either verbally or tactually, and produce a hard copy via a desktop computer-driven braille embosser. Because the use of computers is so common in school, children learn both the braille contractions and also how to spell words out letter for letter so they can spell and write using a keyboard. Writing Braille by hand is accomplished by means of a device called a slate that consists of two metal plates hinged together to permit a sheet of paper to be inserted between them. Some slates have a wooden base or guide board onto which the paper is clamped. The upper of the two metal plates, the guide plate, has cell-sized windows; under each of these, in the lower plate, are six slight pits in the Braille dot pattern. A stylus is used to press the paper against the pits to form the raised dots. A person using Braille writes from right to left; when the sheet is turned over, the dots face upward and are read from left to right. In 1952, the French government finally recognised Louis Braille’s achievements. His body was exhumed from the village cemetery in Coupvray and reburied in the Pantheon in Paris, where other famous French figures including Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau are also laid to rest. Louis’ hands were buried in Coupvray. Since its development in France by Louis Braille in the latter part of the nineteenth century, braille has become not only an effective means of communication, but also an essential avenue for achieving and enhancing literacy for people who are blind or have significant vision loss. Braille is here to stay!
(The author is a freelancer. He writes regularly for the opinion pages of “Kashmir Horizon”. The views, opinions, facts, assumptions, presumptions and conclusions expressed in this article are author’s own and aren’t necessarily in accord with the views of “Kashmir Horizon”.)