By Ginny A. Roth ~
January is National Braille Literacy Month, which occurs every year in honor of the birth of Louis Braille born January 4, 1809.
Louis Braille was born in Coupvray, a town in north central France. He was blinded at the age of three when he accidentally poked himself in the eye with his father’s stitching awl. The infection that ensued spread to his other eye and by the age of 5 he was completely blind. Despite his disability, the creative and intelligent Braille attended school and learned as much as he could by listening to his teachers. At the age of ten he attended the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris, the world’s first school for children who were blind. Increasingly frustrated that the only books available to him contained letters in raised-print, Braille adapted night writing or sonography, an embossed 12-dot system devised by Charles Barbier for French soldiers to communicate with one another without sound, to a less cumbersome system that individuals who were visually impaired could use for reading and writing. This improved system, which would become universally known as braille, was simplified to a 6-dot system where each braille cell consisted of two parallel lines of 3 dots each. Individuals who were visually impaired could read by passing their fingers over the raised dots, each cell representing a letter, a number, a punctuation mark, or a whole word.
Louis Braille published the first-ever book about braille in 1829. Since then, braille has been adapted to almost every known language, and continues to evolve with the advent of new technologies.
For an example of an early book using raised-print for individuals who are blind or visually impaired see The Life of Philip Melancthon, 1837 in the National Library of Medicine’s historical collections.