Louis Braille, a different look at life

Omaggio di Zoa Studio a Louis Braille

Today we tell you a different story than usual, that of Louis Braille. A man who, following a disability, has helped many people, and still helps them today. “Another way of seeing life/a different look at life” is also the claim of theLingue Braille institute. What does Braille do on our blog? Obviously because we can count him among the superheroes,and now we tell you why on the occasion of the day dedicated to him.

World Braille Day

Indeed, today, on the occasion of Louis Braille’s birthday, the UN is celebrating World Braille Day. January 4th is an international day that celebrates awareness of the importance of Braille as a means of communication in the full realization of human rights for the blind or visually impaired. It was with the resolution passed by the General Assembly in November 2018 which recognizes the use of written language as essential for the full realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms, that this day was established. On 4 January of each year, a series of initiatives aimed at raising awareness are organized.

Youth and education of Louis Braille

Louis Braille was born on January 4, 1809 in Coupvray, a small village in France located east of Paris. At the age of three, while playing with a knife used to cut skin in his father’s saddlery workshop, he was seriously injured in the eye. After a few months, due to the lack of medical means at the time to heal his wound, the infection spread to the other eye and at the age of five Braille went completely blind. It’s a case of sympathy ophthalmia.

Louis Braille attended his village school then, at the age of 10, he was admitted to the Royal Institute for the Young Blind in Paris (which has since become the National Institute for the Young Blind), founded in 1784 by Valentin Haüy.

He will spend 24 years of his life there, first as a student, then as a teacher, and there he will develop his alphabet. A diligent, intelligent, hardworking, tenacious student, he succeeds in all disciplines. Excellent musician, he played the organ in various parishes in Paris.

At the institute, blind students learned to read and write with Roman characters in relief on cardboard. In practice, this process initiated by the founder, Valentin Haüy, was not very effective. Roman characters were difficult to recognize by touch, so reading is extremely slow, even for a skilled student like Braille was.

The birth of Braille alphabet

In 1821, Louis Braille and his classmates experimented with a code called “sonography,” a system that represents sounds using 12 raised points, invented by Captain Charles Barbier, a retired officer.

They were given special tablets and an awl created by Captain Barbier to learn how to write with points. Instant success: dots are much easier to read and write than embossed letters.

But the disadvantages abound: Barbier’s writing is phonetic and therefore does not respect spelling. In addition, it does not allow students to transcribe punctuation marks, numbers or musical notes. Last, characters can count up to twelve points, too high a height to be read immediately by the finger.

The young Braille therefore devotes all his free time to perfecting the Barber system to better meet the needs of the blind. In 1825 he presented to the director of the Institution a first version of his system.

Two years later, a first transcription experiment was attempted. The result is conclusive and in 1829 appears the first exposition of the method of Louis Braille: method of writing texts, music and singing piano by means of points, for the use of the blind and arranged for them. It is the birth certificate of Braille.

In 1837, a second edition provides the final version of the alphabet. It is this system that is still in place today. Although Louis Braille was admired and respected by his students, his writing system was not taught at the Institute during his lifetime. The successors of Valentin Haüy, who died in 1822, showed no interest in altering the established methods of the school, and indeed were actively hostile to its use. Dr Alexandre René Pignier, principal of the school, was fired from his post after translating a history book into Braille.

L'alfabeto di Louis Braille
Louis Braille alphabet

The last years and the legacy of Louis Braille

During his life, Louis Braille was in poor health: in 1835, he showed the first signs of tuberculosis, which would take him away a few 17 years later.

He died on January 6, 1852, at the age of forty-three, in the presence of his friends and his brother.

His remains, buried in the Coupvray cemetery, will be transferred to the Pantheon a century later. In a symbolic gesture, the hands of Braille were left to Coupvray, reverently buried near his home. His birthplace, which houses the Louis-Braille Museum and a library, was restored in 1997.

A large monument to him was erected in the town square, which was in turn renamed the Braille Square. Statues and other memorials to Louis Braille can be found all over the world.

He was commemorated in stamps around the world and asteroid 9969 Braille was named for him in 1992. It is not the first time that we have found asteroids dedicated to some of the protagonists of our articles, do you remember Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and Isaac Asimov?

Returning instead to today’s protagonist we also tell you that the Encyclopaedia Britannica lists him among the “100 most influential inventors of all time”. The 200th anniversary of the birth of Braille in 2009 was celebrated around the world by exhibitions and symposia on his life and his achievements.

Among the commemorations, Belgium and Italy minted 2-euro coins, India issued a series of commemorative rupees, and the United States minted a one-dollar coin in his honor.

In popular culture

Because his successes occurred when he was a boy, Braille holds a special place as a hero for children and has been the subject of a large number of works of early literature. Other artistic appearances include the American television special Young Heroes: Louis Braille, the French TV film Une lumière dans la nuit, and the comedy-drama Braille: The Early Life of Louis Braille.

In music, the life of Braille was the subject of the song Merci, Louis, composed by singer-songwriter Terry Kelly. In addition, The Braille Legacy, a musical telling the story of Louis Braille, directed by Thom Southerland and starring Jérôme Pradon, premiered at the Charing Cross Theater in April 2017.

Legacy of Braille writing system

Thanks to the overwhelming insistence of blind pupils, the Braille system was finally adopted by the Institute in 1854, two years after his death. The system spread throughout the Francophone world, but was slower to expand to other places.

However, at the time of the first European Conference of Teachers of the Blind in 1873, the cause of braille was advocated by Dr. Thomas Rhodes Armitage and its international use rapidly increased thereafter. In 1882, Dr. Armitage reported that Braille was used everywhere except in some areas of North America.

In the United States, first in 1916 and then in 1932, a universal Braille code was formalized also for English.

Over time, new variations in Braille technology have developed, including innovations such as computer terminals for Braille; RoboBraille email delivery service; and Nemeth Braille, a complete system for mathematical and scientific notation.

Nearly two centuries after its invention, Braille remains a powerful and enduring utility system. To describe the immense legacy of Louis Braille, in addition to celebrating World Braille Day together today, we conclude with the words of T.S. Eliot, in a 1952 essay.

“Perhaps the most enduring honor in the memory of Louis Braille is the semi-conscious honor we pay him by applying his name to the writing he invented. We honor Braille when we talk Braille” .



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