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Braille & The Blind

Reading Braille
Reading Braille

Thanks to one brave teenager, a system of reading and writing is available to blind and partially blind people all over the world.


Louis Braille

There was a time, not long ago, when most people thought the only way to read was to look at words with your eyes. Louis Braille thought otherwise. Born in 1809 in a small village near Paris, Louis’ father made harnesses, using sharp tools to cut and punch holes in the leather. While playing with one of his father's tools, Louis accidentally poked one of his eyes. A few days later he lost sight in both his eyes.


The first few days after becoming blind were very hard. But Louis learned to adapt and lead an otherwise normal life – he wasn’t going to let his disability slow him down. When he heard of a school in Paris especially for blind students he went off to find himself a solid education.



Louis loved to read, and his new school had special books for the blind with large letters that were raised up off the page. Since the letters were so big, the books were large and bulky – and very expensive to buy. The school had exactly 14 of them. Louis set about reading all 14 books in the school library. He could feel each letter, but it took him a long time to read a sentence. It took a few seconds to reach each word and by the time he reached the end of a sentence, he almost forgot what the beginning of the sentence was about. Louis knew there must be a better way for a blind person to quickly feel the words on a page and to read as quickly and as easily as a sighted person.


Louis had a new goal: create a system for blind people to read. He heard about an alphabet code used by the French army that was made up of small dots and dashes raised up off the paper so soldiers could read them by running their fingers over them. Louis tried it out. It was much better than reading the gigantic books with gigantic raised letters.



During a vacation home to see his parents, Louis thought about how he could improve the French army’s system of dots and dashes. He liked the idea of the raised dots, but could do without the raised dashes. As he sat in his father's leather shop, he picked up the same type of tool that had blinded him, which was used to punch holes in leather. The idea came to him in a flash, and he spent the next few days creating an alphabet made up entirely of six dots. The position of the different dots would represent the different letters of the alphabet. He used the leather-punching tool to punch out a sentence. He read it quickly from left to right. Everything made sense. It worked … and Braille was created!


How it Works

Braille consists of patterns of raised dots arranged in cells of up to six dots in a 3 x 2 configuration. Each cell represents a letter, number or punctuation mark. Some frequently used words and letter combinations also have their own single cell patterns.



There are a number of different versions of Braille:

  • Grade 1: Consists of the 26 standard letters of the alphabet and punctuation. It is only used by people who are first starting to read Braille.
  • Grade 2: Consists of the 26 standard letters of the alphabet, punctuation and contractions. Books, signs in public places, menus and most other Braille materials are written in Grade 2 Braille.
  • Grade 3: Mainly in personal letters, diaries and notes, and also in literature. It is a kind of shorthand, with entire words shortened to a few letters.


  • Braille has been adapted to write many different languages, including Chinese, and is also used for music and math. Its invention has also led to new ways to help people with disabilities.



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