As a form of written communication for blind and partially-sighted people, Braille was invented 200 years ago. Between 1825 and 1835 many types of reading systems for the blind were created but it was a blind teenagers system, that of Louis Braille from Coupvray France that was adopted and became the system that we know today.
Louis Braille lost his eye sight when he was three through an injury to his eye. Medical attempts to save his eyesight failed as they were not advanced enough and the infection in his eye spread to the other eye and consequently, he became blind in both eyes.
Braille went on to study at the Paris National Institute for Blind youth. As a teenager, Braille’s teacher invited a gentleman by the name of Charles Barbier who, under Napoleon’s orders had created a system of ‘night writing’for the military whereby soldiers could read at night without making any sound to alert their enemy by using a system of raised dots and dashes instead of letters. The system was rejected by the military as it was too complex, however it was believed that it could be used as a form of communication for blind people.
Barbier’s system was incredibly complicated, but the idea made sense and it inspired Braille to research and improve on it. At the age of sixteen he created a more practical version of the system recognising that the problem with Barbier’s system was that it did not allow the human finger to encompass the whole symbol without moving, so the reader could not move quickly from one symbol to the other. Instead, Braille created a system using a maximum of 6 dots in different patterns and layout with each pattern representing a letter of the alphabet, as well as numbers and punctuation. The system allowed blind people to read a lot more quickly and easily and could also be adapted to other languages easily.
Braille achieved great success with the system and later became a teacher at the Institute and used his system with his students. It was not until 1854, two years after Braille’s death that the National Institute for Blind Youth formally accepted the system, when Braille’s students pushed for it to be embraced following the success of a school in Amsterdam, which had adopted it as a primary reading/writing system. Word spread about Braille and by the end of the 19thCentury, the system had been adopted all over the world except for the USA which only officially recognised it in 1916.