- The system of writing and printing for the blind, known as Braille, is eponymous for Louis Braille, its inventor (1809-1852). Braille was blinded at age three. While playing in his father's harness-repair shop in Coupvray, near Paris, he drove an awl through an eye. Soon after the other eye lost its sight.There weren't many useful jobs for blind people, but Braille's father was determined to help his son find a life of usefulness; accordingly the boy needed a good education. To this end, Louis, until age ten, attended his village school with sighted children. His father then enrolled him in the Institution Nationale des Jeunes Aveugles for blind youth in Paris. Braille had learned the alphabet by feeling twigs formed in the shape of letters.Books for the blind were scarce in those days, and those in the school library were very heavy. From those oversized books, some weighing twenty pounds, young Braille learned to read. The books had been developed at the Institution and consisted of enlarged, raised Roman letters, which was the only touch-reading technology then in existence. About half the blind children who tried to learn this method found it too difficult. Braille was a distinguished student and, in 1829, became a professor at the Institution.The army at the time used a system of communication based on touch rather than sight, a primitive form of "night writing" invented by Charles Barbier, a captain of artillery in the army. The system consisted of twelve raised marks on paper that in the darkness could be passed along with no spoken word or illumination and which fingers could "read." The message was clear but simple, such as one dot for advance, two dots for lie low, three dots for take cover, and so on. It ignited Braille's imagination.Braille, when only fifteen years old, refined the system by using a sixdot cell, his pattern being two clots across and three down. This pattern lent itself to sixty-three combinations, which represented all the letters in the French alphabet, except "W" (French like Latin had no "W," although later at the .request of an Englishman one was added), together with punctuation and contractions and a system for musical notations. A whole world opened up for the blind.Braille's system of communication received a warm reception throughout France, and he was also hailed for his musical compositions. (Braille displayed some talent with the piano, but he became an accomplished organist.) Nonetheless, doom set in when a new director at the institution decreed that the old system had to be used and not Braille's. Despite that setback, Braille continued improving his system, including notational variations for music.Perhaps Braille's system might have passed into oblivion but for a young blind girl, Therese von Kleinert, who, after performing at the organ before a large gathering of cultured people, announced, as the applause subsided, that the applause really belonged to Louis Braille, the inventor of the system that she used. By then he had already died, unheralded, of tuberculosis, two days after his forty-third birthday.Braille's body was borne to Coupvray for burial. The newspapers in Paris ignored Braille's death and made no mention of it. The task of educating the blind carne to a dismal standstill. But fortunately there was a turnaround in favor of Braille's method, including adoption of the Braille system by the Institution in 1854, two years after Braille's death, so that today the magic dots convey a truly universal language for the blind.On June 30, 1952, Braille's body was exhumed and transported to Paris and carried up the steps of the Pantheon, to receive the highest honor that France can bestow upon its dead — burial among the most famous heroes of the nation.
Dictionary of eponyms. Morton S. Freeman. 2013.