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Louis Braille

Birthplace: Coupvray, Seine-et-Marne, Île-de-France, France
Death: January 06, 1852 (43)
Paris, Paris, Île-de-France, France
Place of Burial: Coupvray, Seine-et-Marne, Île-de-France, France
Immediate Family:

Son of Simon René Braille and Monique Braille
Brother of Louis Simon Braille; Marie Céline Marniesse and Monique Catherine Joséphine Carron

Occupation: Professeur inventeur de l'alphabet en points saillants pour les aveugles
Managed by: Pierre Quenee
Last Updated:

About Louis Braille

Louis Braille (/breɪl/ ; French: [lwi bʁaj]; 4 January 1809 – 6 January 1852) was a French educator, catholic priest and inventor of a system of reading and writing for use by the blind or visually impaired. His system remains virtually unchanged to this day, and is known worldwide simply as braille.

Blinded in both eyes as a result of an early childhood accident, Braille mastered his disability while still a boy. He excelled in his education and received scholarship to France's Royal Institute for Blind Youth. While still a student there, he began developing a system of tactile code that could allow blind people to read and write quickly and efficiently. Inspired by the military cryptography of Charles Barbier, Braille constructed a new method built specifically for the needs of the blind. He presented his work to his peers for the first time in 1824.

In adulthood, Braille served as a professor at the Institute and had an avocation as a musician, but he largely spent the remainder of his life refining and extending his system. It went unused by most educators for many years after his death, but posterity has recognized braille as a revolutionary invention, and it has been adapted for use in languages worldwide.

Early life

A small two-story farmhouse Birthplace of Louis Braille in Coupvray Louis Braille was born in Coupvray, France, a small town about twenty miles east of Paris. He and his three elder siblings – Monique Catherine (b. 1793), Louis-Simon (b. 1795), and Marie Céline (b. 1797)[1] – lived with their parents, Simon-René and Monique, on three hectares of land and vineyards in the countryside. Simon-René maintained a successful enterprise as a leatherer and maker of horse tack.[2][3]

As soon as he could walk, Braille spent time playing in his father's workshop. At the age of three, the child was playing with some of the tools, trying to make holes in a piece of leather with an awl. Squinting closely at the surface, he pressed down hard to drive the point in, and the awl glanced across the tough leather and struck him in one of his eyes. A local physician bound and patched the affected eye and even arranged for Braille to be met the next day in Paris by a surgeon, but no treatment could save the damaged organ. In agony, the young boy suffered for weeks as the wound became severely infected; an infection which then spread to his other eye, likely due to sympathetic ophthalmia.[3]a

Louis Braille survived the torment of the infection but by the age of five he was completely blind in both eyes.[4] Due to his young age, Braille did not realize at first that he had lost his sight, and often asked why it was always dark.[5] His parents made many efforts – quite uncommon for the era – to raise their youngest child in a normal fashion, and he prospered in their care. He learned to navigate the village and country paths with canes his father hewed for him, and he grew up seemingly at peace with his disability.[3] Braille's bright and creative mind impressed the local teachers and priests, and he was accommodated with higher education.[2][6]


Braille studied in Coupvray until the age of ten. Because of his combination of intelligence and diligence, Braille was permitted to attend one of the first schools for blind children in the world, the Royal Institute for Blind Youth,[7] since renamed to the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris.[8] Braille, the last of the family's children to leave the household, departed for the school in February 1819.[9] At that time the Royal Institute was an underfunded, ramshackle affair, but it provided a relatively stable environment for blind children to learn and associate together.[10][11]

Haüy system

The children were taught how to read by a system devised by the school's founder, Valentin Haüy. Not blind himself, Haüy was a philanthropist who devoted his life to helping the blind. He designed and manufactured a small library of books for the children using a technique of embossing heavy paper with the raised imprints of Latin letters. Readers would trace their fingers over the text, comprehending slowly but in a traditional fashion which Haüy could appreciate.[12]

Braille was helped by the Haüy books, but he also despaired over their lack of depth: the amount of information kept in such books was necessarily small. Because the raised letters were made in a complex artisanal process using wet paper pressed against copper wire, the children could not hope to "write" by themselves. So that the young Louis could send letters back home, Simon-René provided him with an alphabet made from bits of thick leather. It was a slow and cumbersome process, but the boy could at least trace the letters' outlines and write his first sentences.[13]

The handcrafted Haüy books all came in uncomfortable sizes and weights for children. They were laboriously constructed, very fragile, and expensive to obtain: when Haüy's school first opened, it had a total of three books.[12] Nonetheless, Haüy promoted their use with zeal. To him, the books presented a system which would be readily approved by educators and indeed they seemed – to the sighted – to offer the best achievable results. Braille and his schoolmates, however, could detect all too well the books' crushing limitations.[12] Nonetheless, Haüy's efforts still provided a breakthrough achievement – the recognition of the sense of touch as a workable strategy for sightless reading. Haüy's only personal limitation was that he was "talking to the fingers [with] the language of the eye."[14]

Teacher and musician

Braille read the Haüy books repeatedly, and he was equally attentive to the oral instruction offered by the school. He proved to be a highly proficient student and, after he had exhausted the school's curriculum, he was immediately asked to remain as a teacher's aide. By 1833, he was elevated to a full professorship. For much of the rest of his life, Braille stayed at the Institute where he taught history, geometry, and algebra.[8][15]

Braille's ear for music enabled him to become an accomplished cellist and organist in classes taught by Jean-Nicolas Marrigues. Later in life, his musical talents led him to play the organ for churches all over France. A devout Catholic,[16] Braille held the position of organist in Paris at the Church of Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs[17] from 1834 to 1839, and later at the Church of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul.[18]

Braille system

The first version of braille, composed for the French alphabet Braille was determined to invent a system of reading and writing that could bridge the gap in communication between the sighted and the blind. 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 patronized 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."[15]

The same two letters printed in different formats Three forms of the letters "A" and "Z"


In 1821, Braille learned of a communication system devised by Captain Charles Barbier of the French Army. Some sources depict Braille learning about it from a newspaper account read to him by a friend,[19] while others say the officer, aware of its potential, made a special visit to the school.[4][20] In either case, Barbier willingly shared his invention called "night writing" which was a code of dots and dashes impressed into thick paper. These impressions could be interpreted entirely by the fingers, letting soldiers share information on the battlefield without having light or needing to speak.[14] The captain's code turned out to be too complex to use in its original military form, but it inspired Braille to develop a system of his own.[21][22]


Braille worked tirelessly on his ideas, and his system was largely completed by 1824, when he was fifteen years old.[8][15] From Barbier's night writing, he innovated by simplifying its form and maximizing its efficiency. He made uniform columns for each letter, and he reduced the twelve raised dots to six. He published his system in 1829, and by the second edition in 1837 had discarded the dashes because they were too difficult to read. Crucially, Braille's smaller cells were capable of being recognized as letters with a single touch of a finger.[8]

Braille created his own raised-dot system by using an awl, the same kind of implement which had blinded him. In the process of designing his system, he also designed an ergonomic interface for using it, based on Barbier's own slate and stylus tools. By soldering two metal strips across the slate, he created a secure area for the stylus which would keep the lines straight and readable.[8]

By these modest means, Braille constructed a robust communication system. "It bears the stamp of genius" wrote Dr. Richard Slating French, former director of the California School for the Blind, "like the Roman alphabet itself."[23]

Musical adaptation

The system was soon extended to include braille musical notation. Passionate about his own music, Braille took meticulous care in its planning to ensure that the musical code would be "flexible enough to meet the unique requirements of any instrument."[24] In 1829, he published the first book about his system, Method of Writing Words, Music, and Plain Songs by Means of Dots, for Use by the Blind and Arranged for Them. Ironically this book was first printed by the raised letter method of the Haüy system.[25][26]


Braille produced several written works about braille and as general education for the blind. Method of Writing Words, Music, and Plain Songs... (1829) was revised and republished in 1837;[27] his mathematics guide, Little Synopsis of Arithmetic for Beginners, entered use in 1838;[27] and his monograph New Method for Representing by Dots the Form of Letters, Maps, Geometric Figures, Musical Symbols, etc., for Use by the Blind was first published in 1839.[28] Many of Braille's original printed works remain available at the Braille birthplace museum in Coupvray.[29]


New Method for Representing by Dots... (1839) put forth Braille's plan for a new writing system with which blind people could write letters that could be read by sighted people.[30] Called decapoint, the system combined his method of dot-punching with a new specialized grill which Braille devised to overlay the paper. When used with an associated number table (also designed by Braille and requiring memorization), the grill could permit a blind writer to faithfully reproduce the standard alphabet.[31]

After the introduction of decapoint, Braille gave assistance to his friend Pierre-François-Victor Foucault, who was working on the development of his Raphigraphe, a device that could emboss letters in the manner of a typewriter. Foucault's machine was hailed as a great success and was exhibited at the World's Fair in Paris in 1855.[32]

Later life

Although Braille was admired and respected by his pupils, his writing system was not taught at the Institute during his lifetime. The successors of Valentin Haüy, who had died in 1822, showed no interest in altering the established methods of the school,[25] and indeed, they were actively hostile to its use. Dr. Alexandre François-René Pignier, headmaster at the school, was dismissed from his post after he had a history book translated into braille.[33]

Braille had always been a sickly child, and his condition worsened in adulthood. A persistent respiratory illness, long believed to be tuberculosis, dogged him, and by the age of forty, he was forced to relinquish his position as a teacher. Despite the lack of a cure at the time, Braille lived with the illness for 16 years. When his condition reached mortal danger, he was admitted to the infirmary at the Royal Institution, where he died in 1852, two days after he had reached the age of forty-three.[4][34]


Through the overwhelming insistence of the blind pupils, Braille's system was finally adopted by the Institute in 1854, two years after his death.[25][35] The system spread throughout the French-speaking world, but was slower to expand in other places. However, by the time of the first all-European conference of teachers of the blind in 1873, the cause of braille was championed by Dr. Thomas Rhodes Armitage and thereafter its international use increased rapidly. By 1882, Dr. Armitage was able to report that "There is now probably no institution in the civilized world where braille is not used except in some of those in North America."[36] Eventually even these holdouts relented: braille was officially adopted by schools for the blind in the United States in 1916, and a universal braille code for English was formalized in 1932.[37]

New variations in braille technology continue to grow, including such innovations as braille computer terminals; RoboBraille email delivery service; and Nemeth Braille, a comprehensive system for mathematical and scientific notation. Almost two centuries after its invention, braille remains a system of powerful and enduring utility


About Louis Braille (Français)

Louis Braille, né le 4 janvier 1809 à Coupvray, en Seine-et-Marne, et mort le 6 janvier 1852, est l’inventeur français du système d’écriture tactile à points saillants, à l’usage des personnes aveugles ou fortement malvoyantes : le braille.



Le père de Louis Braille exerce le métier de bourrelier du village, fabriquant des harnais, des sacs et des courroies de cuir. Déjà tout petit, Louis Braille manifeste un vif intérêt pour le maniement des outils. Dès qu'il sait marcher, il se glisse en toute occasion dans l’atelier de son père pour y jouer. À l'âge de trois ans, alors qu’il fait des trous dans un morceau de cuir avec une alêne (outil qui sert à faire des trous dans le cuir), celle-ci lui échappe et atteint son œil droit. Il n’y a pas grand-chose à faire excepté bander l’œil atteint, mais Louis ne peut s’empêcher de gratter la blessure qui s'infecte. L'infection s'étend à l'œil gauche, qui provoque la cécité.


Aveugle, Louis Braille suit les cours de l'école de Coupvray de 1816 à 1818. Comme son accident ne lui a pas fait passer l’envie de travailler le cuir, il s’y adonne de tout son cœur — ce qui, probablement, l’aide à développer son habileté manuelle.

Ses parents, qui savent tous deux lire et écrire, se rendent bien compte de l'importance d'une bonne instruction pour un enfant handicapé. Alors que Louis a 10 ans, son père lui obtient, en écrivant plusieurs fois, et avec l'aide du curé de la paroisse et de l'intervention du maire, le marquis d'Orvilliers, pair de France, une bourse pour son admission à l’Institution royale des jeunes aveugles, école fondée par Valentin Haüy. À l'école, les enfants apprennent à lire sur des lettres en relief mais ne peuvent pas écrire, car l'impression est faite avec des lettres cousues sur du papier. Dès son entrée à l’institution, Braille apparaît comme un élève de premier ordre. Il réussit dans toutes les disciplines enseignées et rafle toutes les récompenses, qu’il s'agisse de tâches manuelles ou de travaux intellectuels. Braille n’a pas encore quinze ans qu’on lui confie déjà certaines responsabilités d’enseignement.


Vers 1835, Braille commence à être sujet à des quintes de toux de plus en plus régulières. On allège alors petit à petit ses tâches de professeur, ne lui laissant à partir de 1840 que ses leçons de musique. Il décide de lui-même, en 1844, d’abandonner définitivement l’enseignement. Il profite de son temps libre pour essayer de donner encore plus d’ampleur à son travail et inaugure en 1847 la première machine à écrire le braille. Cependant, dans la nuit du 4 au 5 décembre 1851, une hémorragie abondante du poumon l’oblige à cesser toute activité.

Alité, de plus en plus affaibli par des hémorragies successives, il meurt le 6 janvier 1852 de la tuberculose, en présence de ses amis et de son frère, après avoir reçu l’extrême-onction. Il est inhumé le 10 janvier à Coupvray, selon la volonté de sa famille. Sa dépouille est transférée un siècle plus tard au Panthéon de Paris, mais ses mains restent inhumées dans sa tombe de Coupvray, en hommage à son village d’enfance.

L’alphabet braille

C’est en 1821 que Louis Braille assiste à la présentation faite par Charles Barbier de La Serre à l'Institution royale des jeunes aveugles de son système de sonographie. Immédiatement, il veut y apporter quelques améliorations. Cependant, une grande différence d’âge sépare les deux inventeurs et, malgré son succès à l’Institut, personne ne fait attention à Louis. D’autre part, Barbier, qui avait un caractère entier, n’accepte pas que l’on touche au principe de son invention : représenter des sons, comme la sténographie, et non l’alphabet. Le dialogue n’a sans doute pas été facile entre le jeune écolier et l’inventeur, chevronné et sûr de lui ; il est probable aussi que Barbier, n'étant pas aveugle, ne ressentait pas la lecture par les doigts. Cela n’a pas empêché Braille de poursuivre la mise au point de son propre système, auquel il travaillait avec acharnement, surtout le soir et la nuit. Après quelque temps, son travail est presque au point, vers 1825. C’est en 1827 (Braille a alors dix-huit ans) que cette écriture reçoit pour la première fois la sanction de l’expérience : la transcription de la « grammaire des grammaires » En 1829 parait, imprimé en relief linéaire qui est encore l’écriture officielle à l’institution, l’ouvrage intitulé Procédé pour écrire les paroles, la musique et le plain-chant au moyen de points, à l’usage des aveugles et disposés pour eux, par Louis Braille, répétiteur à l’institution Royale des Jeunes Aveugles. C'est le « véritable acte de naissance du système braille ». Ce premier alphabet n’est pas exactement celui que nous connaissons, mais sa partie principale – les quatre premières séries – est la même qu’aujourd'hui ; il comporte, outre les points, un certain nombre de traits lisses qui disparaîtront rapidement. Dans son exposé, Braille décrit la « planchette » et le « stylet » mais ne dit pas comment réaliser les traits lisses. On ne connaît pas les règles que Braille s’est fixées pour établir la première série de signes, dont les autres découlent. Ce que l’on sait, c’est que Braille a été très attentif à écarter les signes qui auraient pu prêter à confusion car trop proches les uns des autres.

Malgré ses défauts de jeunesse, ce système est d’ores et déjà supérieur à celui de Barbier. Le plus grand avantage du système de Braille est que c’est un alphabet, calqué sur celui des voyants. Il donne donc un accès réel et complet à la culture. Il est beaucoup plus facile à déchiffrer car ses caractères sont de moitié moins hauts (six points maximum au lieu de douze) et peuvent être facilement enseignés à tout aveugle. De plus, il demande très peu d’entraînement, sans déplacement du doigt.

Bien que Barbier ait toujours refusé de se déjuger, il reconnaît la valeur de la méthode de Braille, ce qui encourage ce dernier à apporter des innovations à son écriture, telles que la notation musicale ponctuée qui est devenue de nos jours ce que l’on nomme la « Notation musicale braille internationale ». Par la suite, l’emploi du braille ne fait que se développer mais il faut plus de vingt-cinq ans pour qu’il soit officiellement adopté en France.

Le braille connaît cependant quelques difficultés, et notamment, entre 1840 et 1850, une « crise du braille » à la suite du renvoi et de la mise à la retraite prématurée d’un maître de l’Institut qui avait fortement soutenu Braille, accusé de corrompre la jeunesse par l’enseignement de l’histoire. Son successeur commence par essayer de limiter l’usage du braille à la musique. Il n’y réussit pas vraiment et, finalement, à partir de 1847, le braille reprend son ascension.

Braille l’organiste

Louis Braille fut aussi un organiste de talent qui apprit à jouer à l’Institut des jeunes aveugles dans la classe de Marrigues. Il fut titulaire de l’orgue de l’église Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs à Paris dès 1834 ainsi que de l’orgue de l’église Saint-Vincent-de-Paul en 1845.


Braille est essentiellement connu pour l’écriture à points saillants qui porte son nom. Mais Braille ne s’est pas limité à cette invention.

Il restait en effet un problème important que le braille ne résolvait pas : celui de la communication entre aveugles et voyants, qui avait été une des préoccupations majeures de Valentin Haüy. On ne pouvait évidemment pas demander que le braille soit enseigné dans les écoles des voyants, même si cette écriture ne présentait aucune difficulté d’apprentissage pour qui utilisait ses yeux et non ses doigts. C’était aux aveugles de se mettre à la portée des voyants et Louis Braille en était parfaitement conscient. Mettant une fois de plus en action son imagination et son intelligence, il inventa une méthode nouvelle qu’il exposa en 1839 dans une petite brochure imprimée en noir, intitulée Nouveau procédé pour représenter par des points la forme même des lettres, les cartes de géographie, les figures de géométrie, les caractères de musique, etc., à l’usage des aveugles. Cette méthode (aussi nommée « décapoint ») était basée sur un repérage, par coordonnées, de points en nombre suffisant pour permettre d'une part la reconnaissance visuelle de lettres, chiffres et autres signes des voyants, d’autre part leur reconnaissance tactile par les aveugles.

De nombreuses villes françaises ont donné le nom de Louis Braille à l’une de leurs rues. Dans le 12e arrondissement de Paris, la rue Louis-Braille se situe entre l'avenue Michel-Bizot et le boulevard de Picpus.


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Louis Braille's Timeline

January 4, 1809
Coupvray, Seine-et-Marne, Île-de-France, France
January 6, 1852
Age 43
Paris, Paris, Île-de-France, France
January 10, 1852
Age 43
Coupvray, Seine-et-Marne, Île-de-France, France