World Braille Foundation

World Braille Foundation

About Louis Braille and the Braille System

In 1824, a blind Frenchman created and perfected a simple, effective and efficient system of reading and writing by touch. While many had tried before, it fell to 15-year-old Louis Braille to create something that actually met the needs of people who would use it.  In the world of vision loss, the invention of Braille must be compared to the invention of the printing press – its birth was nothing short of a revolution. Today, in the digital age, Braille is more relevant than ever, touching the lives of tens of millions of blind, deafblind and visually impaired people worldwide.  Available in virtually every language, Braille provides endless possibilities for education, achievement and independence through literacy.


Braille was invented in Paris, France by Louis Braille who, in 1829, published the Method of Writing Words, Music, and Plain Song by Means of Dots, for Use by the Blind and Arranged by Them. Born on January 4, 1809, in Coupvray, a small town near Paris, Louis Braille lost his sight at the age of three as a result of an eye injury. During one of his playful adventures in his father's shoemaking workshop, Louis accidentally punctured his eye with an awl. Infection eventually set in and spread to his other eye, leaving Louis Braille 6-dot alphabetcompletely blind.

With the support of a local priest and schoolteacher, and his parents' determination to allow him to develop his demonstrated intelligence, Louis was enrolled in a regular school where he learned by listening and excelled in his studies. By the age of 10, he earned a scholarship to the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris, where he learned to read letters that were raised on a page by pressing shaped copper wire onto a page, it was impossible for people with vision loss to write anything for themselves, and young Louis quickly became frustrated with the system.

It was at the Institute, in 1821, that Louis Braille was first introduced to the idea of a coded system. A French army captain, Charles Barbier de la Serre, visited the school to introduce his invention, "Night Writing", intended for soldiers to communicate at night without speaking. Using 12 dots representing sounds and syllables, it proved complicated, and the army eventually rejected it. Barbier adapted his system for use by people who were blind or living with vision loss, but the 12-dot phonetic system still proved cumbersome.

Recognizing how useful this tactile system could be, Louis set out to develop a simplified version, eventually settling on a system using normal spelling, with six dots representing the standard alphabet. He went on to become a respected teacher at the Institute, but braille was not widely used until after Louis' death in 1852 from tuberculosis.

Braille was eventually recognized for its practicality and simplicity and became a worldwide standard. In 1952, Louis Braille's accomplishments were fully recognized by the French government and his body was exhumed and reburied in the Pantheon in Paris, with other French national heroes.


Braille is one of the many tools used by people with vision loss to facilitate learning and independence. It is to the person with vision loss what the printed word is to the sighted individual: access to information and contact with the outside world, a building block for language skills and a means to teach spelling, grammar and punctuation to children. Braille is a key to literacy, leading to successful employment and independence.

Braille uses a system of small raised dots that are read using the fingertips and can be used to represent everything from words to math and music. The reader’s fingers gently glide over paper that has been embossed with the braille code. For note-taking, a pointed instrument is used to punch out the dots on paper held in a metal slate. The readable raised dots appear on the other side of the paper.

The basis of the braille system is known as a braille cell. The cell is comprised of six dots numbered in a specific order. Each dot or combination of dots represents a letter of the alphabet. In addition to the traditional braille system, a space-saving, contracted braille system exists, which can be compared to the shorthand system invented by sighted people to quicken note-taking.

Braille is produced in a number of ways. It can be transcribed from the original printed text on a machine that resembles a typewriter. Computers can also be used to transcribe and reproduce texts in braille. Braille books are available in all subject areas, ranging from modern fiction to mathematics, music and law.

As with print, braille is used for taking notes and labelling objects. Braille-adapted devices such as watches, games, playing cards and thermometers are examples of some of the practical and recreational uses of braille. Braille can be found almost anywhere that print is found - on signage, restaurant menus, ATM keypads, business cards, textbooks and sheet music. The possibilities are almost limitless!

Several studies have shown that people with vision loss who know braille are far more likely to be employed than those who rely on voice synthesizers. These are the hard facts of the workplace. Although technological advances now provide people with vision loss with tools in the same way technology has enhanced the efficiency of sighted people, computers, scanners, and voice synthesizers do not replace the need for braille.
Technology is wonderful, but it will never be a substitute for basic literacy skills.

Braille is a building block of literacy. Literacy is a building block of independence. It is not that hard to learn, especially when the student is young. Children who learn braille early on usually become extremely fast and competent readers. Learning to read and write is challenging for most children. It takes time, practice and the support and encouragement of family and teachers. That's true whether a child has vision loss or not. Children who do not read and write well have trouble succeeding in school and in the workplace. For children whose vision prevents them from reading and writing print, braille is the route to literacy. Access to Literary Instructions for Students


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