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Louis Braille

Big Thinkers

Louis Braille was born in 1809 near Paris and when he was just 3 years old he had an accident in his father’s workshop, leaving him blind in both eyes. Keen to learn yet limited by his school, Louis won a scholarship to the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris when he was 10, but the oral lessons and mere 14 raised print books were not enough to satisfy young Louis’ craving for information.

Charles Barbier, a former soldier, visited the school with his invention designed to allow soldiers to exchange information in the dark. The ‘Night Writing’ was a code made up of 12 raised dots, but it was so complicated that the soldiers couldn’t read it. Louis, however, understood the code perfectly and simplified it into a 6 dot system and in just 3 years he published the first ever braille book.

Over the next 8 years Louis added symbols for numbers and music, ensuring that every book and subject could be converted into Braille. Although it was not accepted publicly until after Louis’ death, it is now used across the world and has transformed education and communication for the blind.

The cause of Louis’ accident that led to his loss of sight was his unstoppable curiosity. If he hadn’t been so keen to learn his father’s trade then he wouldn’t have had the accident. If he hadn’t been so interested in Charles Barbier’s invention then he wouldn’t have transformed it into a viable form of communication for millions. It was Louis’ curiosity and experimentation that led to his success.

By altering Barbier’s initial code and making it accessible to the student’s in his school, Louis created something that would otherwise have been lost and forgotten in history. He showed dedication and perseverance and didn’t stop until braille was a system that was easy to understand, use and replicate.

While Louis was working on the braille system he was surrounded by possible test subjects, as all of his fellow students could try his prototypes until he had perfected the code. If he had not been able to continually prototype and test his invention, he might have created a code that was still too complicated to use in everyday life.


  • There are three levels of braille: level 1 is basic letter by letter writing, level 2 is abbreviations and contractions, and level 3 is shorthand.
  • The current popularity of eReaders is reducing the usage of braille.
  • Braille is not a language itself, but there is a braille code for every language available.

Image credit: “Braille wine label” by Jeremy Keith – originally posted to Flickr as Braille wine label. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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