Saturday, 27 October 2007


Louis Braille (From the RNIB Website, 2007
The NEW Braille from The Blind Blogger, sometime in the future.

Louis Braille (From the RNIB Website, 2007

Louis Braille invented "braille" , a world wide system of embossed type used by blind and partially sighted people for reading and writing. It has been adapted to almost every known language, from Albanian to Zulu.

He died in 1852 and, for a while, it seemed as if this system would die with the inventor. Thankfully a few key people realised the importance of this invention. In 1868 ,
Link 13: Dr Thomas Armitage
led a group of four blind men to found the British and Foreign Society for Improving the Embossed Literature of the Blind.

This small band of friends grew and grew to become Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) . We are now the largest publisher of braille in Europe. Our pioneering work helps anyone with a sight problem.

Where does the story begin?
Louis Braille was born in a small town near Paris on 4 January 1809.

One day when Louis Braille was a small boy, he crept into his father's workshop to play. He had often seen his father making shoes and he decided he would like to try. He picked up an awl, a sharp, pointed tool used for making holes in leather. As he bent over, the awl slipped and pierced his eye, destroying it forever. Some time later his other eye became infected by the first and he lost his sight altogether . He was aged only 4, but still went on to become one of the most famous Frenchmen ever to live.

Louis Braille's school years
Despite his sight loss the young child attended the village school with his sighted friends for two years. Eventually it became clear that he would not be able to learn much more, largely because he could not read or write. Without an education it was likely that he would have to beg on the streets, like other blind people at that time.

At the age of ten he was lucky enough to be sent to a school for blind boys in Paris, one of the first in the world. Conditions in the school were very harsh. The building was damp and unhealthy and discipline was severe. Pupils who misbehaved were beaten, locked up and given stale bread and water. In fact, this kind of discipline was common in all schools at that time. Life was harsh for nearly everyone and most sighted children left school at the age of 12 and went to work in factories or in mines.

At the school in Paris the blind pupils were taught practical skills like chair caning and slipper making so that when they left the school they would be able to make a living. Once a week, after lunch, the boys were taken for a walk in the park, linked together by a long rope.

They were also taught to read but not to write . The letters they read were raised above the surface of the page so that they could feel them with their fingertips. This form of writing was very difficult to read because it was very hard to tell the letters apart. The letters were printed by pressing copper wire into one side of the paper to make a raised shape on the other. Because each individual letter had to be made out of wire first and because the wire then had to be forced into the paper with a press blind people were unable to write anything for themselves.

One day something happened that changed the lives of blind people forever. In 1821 , a soldier named Charles Barbier visited Louis' school. He bought with him a system he had invented 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.

How did he develop braille?
The young Louis Braille quickly realised how useful this system of raised dots could be, provided it was simplified. Over the next few months he experimented with different systems until he found an ideal system using six dots . He continued to work on the scheme for several years after, developing separate codes for maths and music. In 1827 the first book in braille was published.

Even so, the new system did not catch on immediately. Sighted people did not understand how useful braille could be and one head teacher at the school even banned the children from learning it. Fortunately this seemed to have the effect of encouraging the children even more and they took to learning it in secret. Eventually even sighted people began to realise the benefits of the new system.

Not only could people with sight problems read braille but they could also write it for themselves using a simple stylus to make the dots. For the first time blind and partially sighted people began to be truly independent and to take control of their own lives.

What did he go on to do?
Louis Braille eventually became a teacher in the school where he had been a student. He was admired and respected by his pupils but, unfortunately, he did not live to see his system widely adopted. He had always been plagued by ill health and in 1852, at the age of 43, he died from tuberculosis .

In France itself, Louis Braille's achievement was finally recognised by the state. In 1952 his body was moved to Paris where it was buried in the Pantheon, the home of France's national heroes.

The Modern Braille from The Blind Blogger, sometime in the future.

The modern Braille is the computer that talks or magnifies what is on the screen or what is typed from the keyboard. Blind and partially sighted people all over the world are taught to use the computer in this way. We take it for granted that they can read and write, send and receive emails, surf the web, fill in forms and play a full part in Society.

The old Braille was invented by a Frenchman called Louis Braille who lost his sight as a child in a family workshop accident.

The modern talking computer was invented back in the last quarter of the Twentieth Century but we don’t have a name for the inventor.

For years blind people had to pay lots of money to purchase the software that gave them accessibility and they had to pay lots more money to be trained to use the computers. The great step forward came about in 2006 when a far-sighted small band of friends, two blind people and a talented Professor of Assistive Technology, got together and made the talking software free to all blind people as a download on the web.

At first the organisations of the blind and the commercial providers of the expensive alternatives did not take the free software seriously. As time went on they then grudgingly sought to portray it as inferior and not very functional, while continuing to profit from sales of the costly software.

But the blind couple and the clever Professor were independent and never gave up on their vision of free access software for all blind people regardless of their ability to pay.

Just like Louis Braille in his lifetime, they failed to get appropriate recognition at the time; but this did not matter because, now, as everyone knows, its quite unthinkable that blind people should have to pay such a disability premium on their accessibility.

Sadly, Louis Braille died alone of TB, upstairs in his Blind institution without knowing the wonderful benefits his peers enjoyed after his death. The inventors of the modern Braille, though, had the satisfaction of knowing that the web would take their software round the world quickly, efficiently and freely within a year or two and despite the lack of interest and cooperation from wealthy blind organisations.

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