Louis Braille: A Celebration of Innovation

January 23rd, 2009

Heather Kadrich

Take a moment and imagine what it would be like if you could not read or write and there was no way for you to learn.  200 years ago this is what life was like for persons who had little or no vision.  But the world for blind children and adults was forever changed when a young boy named Louis Braille invented a system to give blind persons the chance to experience learning and self-expression as sighted children and adults had always been able to do.

Louis Braille was born on January 4, 1809, in a small town near Paris, France.  When Braille was a young boy he injured himself with one of his father's tools.  The accident left him with an infection that took his sight.  When he was ten years old Louis received a scholarship to attend the only school for the blind in existence at that time.  The school had a small library of books with raised letters which were very difficult to use, thus Louis, who very much wanted to read, grew impatient.  When he was 12 years old Louis met a soldier who had developed for his men a system of writing that consisted of 12 raised dots.  He called it "night writing."  Braille used this system as a base, but he reduced the number of dots to 6 and developed the system of reading and writing for the blind that we use today. 

In a world where nearly everything is done via computer some might ask if Braille is now obsolete.  Al Puzzuoli, the RCPD's Information Technology specialist and a Braille user, explains, "It would be a mistake for people to consider Braille obsolete."  For Puzzuoli it is a matter of being literate.  "Although I don't use it everyday knowing Braille gives me a better understanding of the language and how it works."  In addition Braille is used in music, math, and to label things in public, such as elevator buttons and ATM machines.  Also the technology involving Braille continues to progress.  For instance, the RCPD can scan a print book onto a computer and print the book out in Braille. If we did not have Braille's system these are all aspects of life to which persons who are blind would have very little or no access. 

Unfortunately there are many who do not see the same importance in learning Braille.  According to the National Federation of the Blind, the country's oldest and largest organization for blind individuals, only 10 percent of blind children are taught how to read Braille. However, 80 percent of blind persons who are employed are fluent Braille readers. Although not every person who is blind has the ability to read Braille (some have other disabilities that make it very difficult), for those who have the capability, Braille remains an important skill to possess when seeking employment. The Federation, which has always advocated for the use of Braille, is attempting to combat this problem by launching the Braille Readers are Leaders Campaign. As part of this initiative the government has issued the National Federation of the Blind Braille Commemorative Coin.  The coin is only one aspect of the initiative.  The campaign will include programs to increase awareness of the importance of Braille, update Braille technology, and help double the number of Braille readers by 2015.[i]  The Braille Readers are Leaders campaign will open up a world of freedom and expression much like Louis Braille did 200 years ago. 

This month we celebrate a man who created a system of reading and writing for persons who are blind.  More than that we celebrate this system that opened a world of independence and learning for blind persons that would not otherwise be available. For more information on Braille or on the Braille Readers are Leaders initiative please see the list below of helpful links.


American Council of the Blind: Braille Forum

American Foundation for the Blind: Celebrating 200 Years

American Foundation for the Blind: Louis Braille Biography

National Federation of the Blind: Braille Readers are Leaders Campaign

[i] National Federation of the Blind: Braille Readers are Leaders Campaign http://www.nfb.org/nfb/Braille_coin.asp?SnID=848061067