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This week in history: Louis Braille

January 10, 2020
Bronze bust of Louis Braille, created by Frédéric-Étienne Leroux (1887)

This week in 1809, Louis Braille was born in a small French town called Coupvray. He’s known for creating the braille reading and writing system for the visually impaired. Louis lost his eyesight at age 5. At age 10, he enrolled in one of the first schools for blind children. The school used the “Haüy system” for reading, named after its inventor, the school’s founder. Books were simply printed with raised letters the reader could feel. But the Haüy books were very heavy, and the students had a hard time reading them. Braille wanted something better. In 1821 he stumbled across a military communication system designed for silent night reading. It used raised dots and dashes on thick paper. This “night writing” was too complex, but it inspired Braille. By 1824, at just 15 years old, he had created his own, far better system.

Braille eventually became a professor at his childhood alma mater, but the faculty didn’t adopt his system during his lifetime. They liked the cumbersome Haüy system. Eventually, the students themselves insisted on braille, and the school adopted it two years after its inventor’s death. Today, braille is the world’s primary reading system for the visually impaired.

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