Braille Writing


Louis Braille
Charles Barbier

Most of the innovations on Innowiki are for-profit inventions. While it could be argued that Braille’s writing technique opened new markets, the size of that market was limited to blind people. However, the impact of the innovation — a process enabling the disabled to regain one of the most important human functions, communication — merits inclusion on this list.

Braille opened the world to blind people and also acknowledged that disabled people could be productive members of society with the right tools. It was both a process innovation and also a new and enlightened way of thinking. Disabled people no longer needed to be wards of the state or a burden on others. With the help of the right technology and tools, they could be productive members of society.

Blinded as a child, Braille attended the Royal Institute for Blind Youth, one of the first schools for blind children. Louis was born with full vision but lost first one eye in an accident then the other due to infection from the first. By the time he was five years old, he was entirely blind.

There, he met French Captain Charles Barbier who showed him a writing method soldiers used called “night writing.” That method utilized a series of 12 dots and dashes to represent letters.

Braille vastly simplified the system to innovate Braille writing. He also extended it to music and mathematics.

Eventually, he was offered a professorship teaching algebra, geometry, and history. Despite that he was teaching, the public did not believe that blind students belonged in school and forced them to learn Braille writing on their own.

By 1854, two years after Braille’s death, the French government finally relented and Braille writing was taught in schools. However, it took another century for his work to be fully appreciated and, in 1954, he was exhumed and buried in the Pantheon, among other French luminaries.

Besides being the inventor of Braille writing and a teacher, Braille also became a musician, playing the cello and organ well enough to perform in church choirs.