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Archived updates for Friday, January 06, 2006

TGIF for Louis Braille

On January 4, 2006, the Google logo was displayed for the first time in braille (above) to honor the birth of its inventor, Louis Braille, in 1809.

At the age of three, Braille injured his left eye with a scratch awl from his father's workshop. This destroyed his left eye, and sympathetic ophthalmia led to loss of vision in his right until Braille was completely blind by the age of four. Despite his disability, Braille continued to attend school, with the support of his parents, until he was required to read and write.

At the age of ten, Braille earned a scholarship to the Institution Royale des Jeunes Aveugles (Royal Institution for Blind Youths) in Paris. He learned how to read by feeling raised letters (a system devised by the school's founder, Valentin Haüy). However, because the raised letters were made using paper pressed against copper wire, the students never learned to write.

In 1821, a former soldier named Charles Barbier visited the school. Barbier shared his invention called "night writing," a code of twelve raised dots that let soldiers share top-secret information on the battlefield without even having to speak. Unfortunately, the code was too hard for the soldiers. Braille, however, picked it up quickly.

That year, Braille began inventing his raised-dot system with his father's scratch awl, finishing at age fifteen. Braille's system, "braille," used only six dots and corresponded to letters, whereas Barbier used twelve dots corresponding to sounds. The six dot system allowed the recognition of letters with a single fingertip apprehending all the dots at once, requiring no movement or repositioning which slowed recognition in systems requiring more dots. The Braille system also offered numerous benefits over Valentin Haüy's raised letter method, the most notable being the ability to both read and write the alphabet.

For a period after his death, the braille system went unnoticed. Its significance was not identified until 1868, when Dr. Thomas Armitage, along with a group of four blind men, established the British and Foreign Society for Improving the Embossed Literature of the Blind (later the Royal National Institute of the Blind), which published books in Braille's system.

The Braille Development Section at the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress, now offers courses in literary, music, mathematics, and proofreading braille for Library of Congress certification, including

You can start by writing your first braille here and reading your first braille below.

--Bill Heinze

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