Opening the World for those Who Can’t See

Louis Braille was born in France. When he was three years old, he was playing with his father’s tools. A tool he was using slipped and punctured one of his eyes. He lost sight in his eye despite efforts to repair the damage. During his fifth year, he lost sight in his other eye.

Using canes his father made for him, he was able to get around the local village. When he was ten, he attended a school for the blind. The director of the school was not blind, so the system he developed for reading was satisfactory, but had adherent weaknesses. There were only three books in the school.

It didn’t take long for Louis to master the reading technique and he was asked to be the teacher’s assistant. He stayed at the school for the rest of his life.

Louis learned of a system for reading that replaced raised letters with a series of raised dots representing different letters. He decided to improve the system. Louis’ system was more efficient by reducing the number of dots needed from 12 to 6. He completed his system when he was 15 years old.

While Louis’ system was more efficient, it was not taught at the school during Louis’ lifetime. In fact, the headmaster was hostile to the system that Louis had developed.

Louis was in poor health throughout his life. He died at the age of 43. Two years after his death, Louis’ system was adopted by the school. Thirty years after the Braille system was used at Louis’ school, it was taught in every school for the visually impaired except those in North America. It took another 30 years for schools in North America to adopt the Braille system.

Hidden heroes often don’t get to see the full impact of their work during their lifetimes. The measure of achievement is the legacy they leave. Louis’ legacy is opening the world to those who lack sight. Braille extensions now extend to music, computer terminals, and STEM notation.

We know the name of Braille. While his name is not hidden to us, the efforts he made to improve the lives of those who have lost their sight are generally not known.

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“Live without seeing, but be what you are.” – Louis Braille

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