Looking Back on World Braille Day: How Louis Braille Changed the World for the Blind

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1910

Louis Braille was born a normal child, but became blind by the age of three.  At the age of 10, he received a scholarship to attend France’s Institut National des Jeunes Aveugles (National Institute for Blind Children), the first-ever specialized school dedicated for the blind. That was the time when students were taught to read by touch, tracing embossed letters on the pages of custom-made books. The letters were printed in large sizes, so students could differentiate them easily but as a result, the books were much bigger and heavier to house the large typeface. The books were very expensive and heavy, with some weighing as much as 100 pounds! When Braille was admitted, the Institute had almost 100 students, but only 14 books.braille

In 1821, a French soldier visited the school to introduce “sonography,” a 12-dot code language read by fingertip so that soldiers could communicate at night without light or making noise. Its typeface was smaller than what students were used to, so the Institute could reduce the size of its books. For the very first time, sonography gave blind students the opportunity to write for with a special grid guide and embossing stylus.

When Braille turned 15, he got an idea to upgrade sonography and make it better. The main issue with sonography was that there were many possible sounds that the 12 dots could create. So, Braille reduced them to 6 dots to symbolize only letters and basic punctuation, completely excluding complex phonetic sounds. Students found Braille’s system much easier and learned it faster than sonography, so it quickly became the usual language at the school, and later, for blind people all over the world.

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