Basic Science

How Braille was invented | Moments of Vision 9

In a Moment of Vision… Early 1800s. It’s the middle of the Napoleonic Wars in the middle of Europe, and it’s the middle of the night. One Captain Charles Barbier of Napoleon’s army is trying to relay a message to one of his troops. But sending written communications to the front lines can be deadly for the recipient. Lighting a candle to read the missive can give away their positions to the enemy.

In a moment of vision, Barbier pokes a series of holes into a sheet of a paper with his blade, creating a coded message that can be deciphered by fingertip, even in the pitch black. The merits of his so-called night writing are never acknowledged by the military, but in 1821, Barbier approaches the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris in the hopes that they might find a use for his innovative, new communication method.

There, a precocious teen by the name of Louis Braille does just that. Louis spends the next several years improving on Barbier’s idea, creating an organized alphabet fitting into a six dot standardized cell. The system catches on. Today, Braille is the universally accepted system of writing for the blind, adapted for more than 130 languages.

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