The Braille Legacy
Dr V M Government Medical College, Solapur
The mind only knows what the eyes have seen. But unfortunately, a few aren’t bestowed the joy of vision. But this very vision, these eyes ,are they essential for perception? No they aren’t! And this was possible because of a revolutionary, Louis Braille , who changed the world of the blind for the better.
Louis Braille was born on 4th of January 1809 in a beautiful small town , Coupvray , near Paris. Along with his siblings, he lived on a beautiful farmland . His father was a latherer by occupation and little Braille frequented his father’s workshop very often. At the age of three, while playing with his father’s tool, Braille faced an unfortunate accident where an awl struck him in one of his eye. Even after receiving prompt treatment, owing to sympathetic ophthalmia the infection spread to the other eye. Alas, Braille lost vision in both his eyes at a tender age of five. But this disability could not deter his sharp and creative mind.
After his initial schooling, Braille set out to the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris, where later on in his life remained as a professor of algebra, geometry and history. But this institute was where he first came across the Haüy system for reading. The Haüy system was developed by a philanthropist Valentin Haüy by embossing heavy paper with raised imprints of Latin letters. But these books were heavy and the the whole system too cumbersome to allow the children to write themselves.
( The National Institute for Blind Youth ,Paris )
His father, Simon-René provided him with letters made of thick bits of leather which enabled Louis to trace the letters and to write letters back home.
All of this encouraged Braille to bridge the gap of communication the blind folk had.Braille held a firm opinion that “We (the blind) do not need pity, nor do we need to be reminded we are vulnerable. We must be treated as equals – and communication is the way this can be brought about.”
Taking inspiration from Captain Charles Barbier who had devised a special code for soldiers called Night Writing , by 1824 Braille came up with his own system of writing. This system consisted of 6 dot patterns which were created by an Awl , the same tool that made him blind. By 1829 he published his system and revised it in 1837. He even devised an ergonomic tool by smouldering two metal strips across a slate.
The Braille system was adapted in 1854 two years after Louis Braille’s death. It gained popularity beginning from the French language but soon spread all over the globe. He also came up with Decapoint using which the blind could write letters that could be read by the sighted.
Apart from being a professor , Louis Braille was a skilled cellist and organist. He also played the organ in the many churches across France. Due to his passion for music , he also meticulously formulated the Braille musical notation and published Method of Writing Words, Music, and Plain Songs by Means of Dots, for Use by the Blind and Arranged for Them in 1829.
The Braille system of writing has been adapted in various forms like the Braille computer , Robo Braille an email system and Nemeth Braille a mathematical and scientific notation system. Braille believed that access to communication was access to knowledge and knowledge. Louis Braille died on 6thJanuary 1852 but his legacy continues even today when a little blind kid can witness the joy of reading. The blind may have darkness around them, but Braille, by enriching their sense of touch has given them the light of knowledge.