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Famous inventors: Louis Braille

Famous inventors: Louis BrailleRead the story of Louis Braille to see how a disability led to the development of a communication tool that would change the lives of many, even to this very day.

Louis Braille was born in 1809, in a small village near Paris. At the age of three while playing with one of his father’s tools known as an awl, Louis accidentally poked one of his eyes.

At first the injury didn’t seem serious, but then the wound became infected and the infection spread out to the other eye. A few days later young Louis lost his sight in both his eyes.

As the days went by Louis learned to adapt and to lead an otherwise normal life. He went to school with all his friends and did well at his studies and at the age of ten he earned a scholarship to the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris, one of the first in the world.

The blind pupils were taught basic craftsman skills and simple trades, but the conditions at the school were harsh. Once a week, after lunch, the boys were taken for a walk in the park, linked together by a long rope. The building itself was damp and unhealthy and discipline was severe. Pupils who misbehaved were beaten, locked up and given stale bread and water.

The children were also taught to read but not to write. To do this they used as special printing technique which pressed copper wire into one side of the paper to make a raised shape of the letters on the other side. This was done so that the pupils could feel the shapes with their fingertips but it was still very difficult to read as it was hard to tell the letters apart. It was also an expensive way to produce books and the school only had 14 books made in this way.

One day, a Captain of the French army visited the school. He showed them his invention called “night writing”. Night writing had originally been designed so that soldiers could pass instructions along trenches at night without having to talk and give their positions away.

It consisted of twelve raised dots which could be combined to represent different sounds. Unfortunately it proved to be too complex for soldiers to master and was therefore rejected by the army.

Braille however soon realized he could improve the system. He reduced the number of dots to six, and invented a writing system using his father’s stitching awl. The dots were arranged in certain patterns to represent letters which could be recognised with a single fingertip.

Braille later extended his system to include notation for mathematics and music. Braille and his friend Pierre Foucauld also went on to develop a machine to speed up the writing process.

Braille’s disability allowed him to invent a system that was flexible enough to have been adapted into almost every known language and revolutionized the lives of blind people everywhere.

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