Why we should all celebrate World Braille Day

Published on: 04 January 2017 Author: Alex Strick

For over 200 years, braille has helped blind people to read and write – and it was all invented by a teenager.

What do I need to know?

Today (4 January) marks the birth of Louis Braille, born over 200 years ago. That's why today is World Braille Day.

Who's Louis Braille?

Louis was the man responsible for inventing braille - the tactile language that helps blind people to read and write.

How did he do it?

At the age of three, Louis had an accident in his father's workshop, resulting in permanent blindness in both eyes. Young Louis then found himself going to one of the world's very first schools for blind children, in Paris. 

The school created books using an ingenious technique of embossing paper with raised imprints of Latin letters. Louis devoured the books, but was frustrated by how little information they were able to contain - and the fact that he still couldn't write himself.

Louis was determined to find a better way of enabling blind people to read and write. So at the age of just 15, following extensive research, he invented a new system that would become known as braille.

What is braille?

Put simply, braille is just the alphabet and numbers, but designed to be read by fingers rather than eyes. Braille is a code, based on six dots and arranged in two columns of three dots. There are 63 possible combinations of the dots.

When did braille take off?

It wasn't until a couple of years after Louis's death in 1854 that the system was actually adopted by his school. It then spread across the rest of France - and, eventually, the world. 

Over 200 years later, it is still used by millions of children and adults alike. In 2015, a new Unified English Braille (UEB) was introduced to the UK. This is intended to develop one set of rules - the same everywhere in the world - across different types of English-language material.

So... Remind me why we celebrate World Braille Day?

World Braille Day is celebrated every year to recognise the efforts of Louis Braille.

His simple yet effective invention made it possible for blind people to read and write.

And in his own words:

Access to communication in the widest sense is access to knowledge, and that is vitally important for us if we (the blind) are not to go on being despised or patronised by condescending sighted people. We 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.

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