Wednesday 4 January 2012

Six Dots, An Awl and a Piece of Paper

On January 4, 1890, in Coupvray, France, a baby was born who would invent a communication system of raised dots, enabling the blind to read and write.  Louis Braille, and his three older sisters, was raised by a leatherer and a homemaker.  At the age of three, he was playing in his father's shop when he poked himself in the eye with an awl, leading to an infection, which later spread to the second eye.  In the end, he lost both eyes and was blinded.  Even so, he was blessed with loving parents who tried to make his life as normal as possible and encouraged him to pursue his education as far as possible despite his disability.  Louis enrolled in the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris, France where he learned how to "write" using a system of embossed Latin letters invented by Valentin Hauy.  However, the system was cumbersome:  although students could write a few words, it was almost impossible for them to write an entire letter home using the method.  Louis thrived at the Blind Institute, becoming a student aid and later a professor.  He also took an interest in music, blossoming into an accomplished cellist and organist, performing at verious churches in France.  Intent on finding a better way to read and write, he found out about a "night writing" code of dots and dashes used by soldiers to share information on the battefield developped by Captain Charles Barbier.  While the captain's system involved 12 dots and a series of dashes, the young professor invented his own communication system using only six raised dots (in various sequences) and no dashes.  He poked the holes into a paper with, of all things, an awl.  The Braille alphabet was first published in 1839, but it was not until 1854 that the National Institute for Blind Youth adopted the system, two years after Louis' death. 

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28)

Bust of Louis Braille courtesy

Braille alphabet courtesy

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