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Shira Yehudit Djlilmand

The invention of Braille opened up a whole new world to the sight-impaired. What exactly is Braille writing, and who invented it?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

You might be surprised to learn that Braille wasn’t originally designed for the blind at all, but for the French army. Napoleon demanded a code that soldiers could use to pass on messages without speaking and without light, either of which could give away the soldiers’ position to the enemy.

Charles Barbier de la Selle, an army general, came up with a system, called night-writing, which used twelve raised dot cells to represent the sounds of the words. De la Selle’s system was too complicated to be used by the army, but when the general paid a visit to the National Institute for the Blind in Paris to demonstrate his system, he met a man named Louis Braille, who had been blind from the age of three but badly wanted to learn.

Braille realized that de la Selle’s system didn’t work because the twelve dot symbols were too big for the human finger to touch in one go without moving, and so one couldn’t read the symbols quickly enough. Braille had the bright idea of using a six-dot cell instead, which was small enough to be “read” in one go.

His idea worked, and Braille was born — the first reading system for the blind.


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