Six dots on two parallel lines – Braille may seem like a simple invention, but the code of raised print is a crucial in providing independence to hundreds of thousands of blind or partially sighted Americans and even more people around the world.
Louis Braille was only 16 years old when he developed the system that would change the landscape of literacy for the blind in the centuries to come.
“He was the first to recognize that a compact system of dots was more efficient for blind folks to read with than using shapes of letters or other dots codes that had been developed,” Steve Bauer, of the Braille Institute of California told InsideEdition.com. “His ingenuity in modifying other systems to meet the needs of the blind is hard to overestimate.”
Braille, born in Coupvray, France in 1809, hurt his eye on a sharp tool while playing in his father’s shop when he was 3 years old. The injury became infected and he eventually lost sight in both eyes.
In his youth, he attended a school for the blind in Paris, but found their system of reading and writing to be ineffective.
“There, students were reading books of raised, embossed letters and would trace the shape of the letter with their fingers,” Bauer explained. “It was a very slow process to read and the books were very time consuming to produce so there were very few of them.”
The teen was introduced to French cavalry officer, Charles Barbier, who was coming up with a code known as night writing as a way for soldiers to communicate silently and in the dark.
The code was made up of 12 dots in each cell of six dots in two parallel rows, but was eventually rejected by the military because it was too complicated.
Braille, however, modified the system to be suitable for the blind. He made each cell six dots instead of 12 so each combination could be read without moving the finger. Each of the 64 combinations make up different letters groups, numbers and punctuation signs, now known as Braille contractions.
“Louis Braille is incredibly important because he developed the system which allowed the blind to read and write independently and was much more efficient than previous systems for blind people,” Bauer explained.
Braille later even developed a music code using his code to represent notes, intervals and staffs.
Today, Braille has been adapted to languages worldwide and has even been modified to allow the blind to access computers and smartphones.
Most recently, Braille was developed for use in mathematical notation and chemistry.
“The moral of Louis Braille's story is that the ingenuity of a young person should not be underestimated,” Bauer said. “He invented a system over 200 years ago which is still in use today – we haven't come up with anything better. A lot of folks think that blind people don't need Braille in this modern age because we have recordings and talking computers but there is nothing like having words under your fingers for memorizing and sharing with others.”