At the age of three, Louis Braille suffered a tragic accident in his father’s saddle making workshop. The young boy had taken hold of a stitching awl, which slipped from his grasp and pierced his eye. Within days he could not see out of the eye. Sadly, Louis was completely blinded shortly thereafter when an infection from his injury spread to his other eye and took away its sight.
Having been blinded at such a young age, Louis easily could have become detached from the sighted world around him. However, thankfully for Louis, a local priest took interest in his development and spent hours conversing with him and teaching him. The priest, astonished by the boy’s sharp mind and ability to learn, convinced Louis’ parents to enroll him in the Royal Institution for Blind Youth. So, at the age of 10, Louis left his family and the familiarity of his rural home and journeyed to a boarding school in Paris.
Initially, Louis felt homesick in his new surroundings, but he quickly settled in and befriended his classmates. He loved to learn, and he enjoyed being in a setting tailored to his needs. Unfortunately, his education progressed slowly due to the arduous system of reading and writing used at the school. The system, called sonography, employed cells of twelve raised dots to spell words phonetically. The French Army had developed sonography so that its soldiers could compose and read messages under the cover of darkness. However, army officers found the system too complex, and it was quickly abandoned. Louis and his classmates likewise struggled with the cumbersome system.
#1 Vision Is Birthed from the Passion to Solve a Problem
After two years of study at the Royal Institution for Blind Youth, Louis had grown intensely dissatisfied with the time-consuming process of putting his thoughts on paper. He longed to be able to read and write fluently, but he was stuck using the unwieldy system of sonography. Determined to build a better system, Louis began experimenting with alternative methods.
#2 Vision Energizes a Person to Tackle the Problem
For three years, from age 12 to 15, Louis Braille devoted his weekends, evenings, and summer vacations to improving upon the system of sonography. In his biography about Louis’ life, Jean Roblin describes the boy’s unceasing, energetic pursuit to create a better mode of communication.
It was at night, especially, that the boy worked. When the breathing of his comrades had grown regular in the great dormitory of the Institution, he would take out his board and stylus and devote himself eagerly to calculations and experiments…Sometimes Louis Braille would doze off from exhaustion, his nose on his board, the stylus in his hand, as though he wanted to keep on working in his sleep. At other times, stimulated by the desire to hit upon a solution and working feverishly with no idea of time, he would suddenly grow conscious of daybreak from the jolting of the first wagons on the street pavement.
Louis’ vision gave him an endless reserve of motivation and spurred him on until he made a breakthrough. By age 15, Louis had worked out what we today know as Braille. He abandoned sonography’s reliance on phonetics, instead returning to normal spelling. He also simplified the number of raised dots in each cell from twelve to six. As a result, his system was far more intuitive for students and could be navigated much more quickly by them.
#3 Vision Provides a Sense of Purpose
Louis Braille’s creation of a superior system of reading and writing filled him with a renewed sense of purpose. From then on, he saw it as his duty to spread the news about his invention. He accepted a teaching post at the Royal Institution for Blind Youth, and shared his methods with his students. He also authored books to publicize his system of reading and writing. From the time of his invention until his death at age 46, Louis tirelessly worked to demonstrate and advertise the benefits of Braille.
Over 150 years after the death of Louis Braille, blind persons across the globe employ his method to expand their minds, broaden their intellect, and share their ideas with the world. A young boy’s vision of a better way for the blind to communicate has influenced generations of those without sight. In the words of Helen Keller, “We the blind are as indebted to Louis Braille as mankind is to Gutenberg . . . Without a dot system what a chaotic, inadequate affair our education would be!”