Louis Braille is a hero to millions of blind people all over the world, but not many people know that we also have Napoleon Bonaparte to thank for the invention of Braille.
Braille is a system of raised dots that can be read using touch alone. Before it was invented, there were a few books produced to teach blind people to read using embossed letters, but they were difficult and expensive to produce.
Louis Braille, who’d been blind since he was three, read some of these books when he was sent to the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris. While he was there an army officer, Charles Barbier, visited the Institute and demonstrated an invention that he called ‘night writing’.
French general Napoleon Bonaparte had had the idea of a code that could be read at night and challenged his army to invent one. So Barbier had come up with a system that allowed soldiers to communicate silently and in total darkness using a system of raised dots to represent the alphabet. Unfortunately, Barbier’s night writing was so complicated that none of the soldiers had been able to learn it.
Although Louis Braille was just 11 years old at the time, he saw the potential of Barbier’s dot system straight away. He spent the next six years simplifying it and in 1821 came up with an alphabet of raised dots arranged in rectangles that could be read quickly and easily.
After you’ve read Braille with your eyes, try to read it with your finger Familiarise yourself with the feeling of Braille and take it slowly, because if you miss one bump then a word could take on a whole new meaning or make no sense at all!
Now go and find some signs in Braille and attempt to read them.
Visually-impaired geniuses: These include Horatio Nelson (British admiral), David Blunkett (UK politician), Eduard Degas and Claude Monet (French painters), Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles (US singer/songwriters), and Cupid/Eros (Roman/Greek god of love).