Inspirational People - Louis Braille
From humble beginnings, Louis Braille pioneered the development of the Braille system of communication used by millions of people worldwide
by Philippa Rae
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To consider the lives of inspirational people, with particular reference to the life of Louis Braille.
Preparation and materials
- Gather pictures or slides of Louis Braille and his system and have the means to display them during the assembly. (Note that alongside the alphabet, Louis Braille also developed a maths and musical score system.)
- Optional: Gather examples or pictures of everyday items showing the use of Braille.
- Further resources: RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People), http://www.rnib.org.uk, the largest producer of books in Braille in Europe. It also provides other services such as a national library, resources and information, online courses and magazines.
Introduction to the series ‘Inspirational People’
Success is about making the most of the opportunities presented to us, and also making the most of our own special talents and gifts. Inspirational people who have achieved great things in their lives inspire us to keep going when things get tough or we suffer knockbacks. These people teach us to appreciate the opportunities that we are given and motivate us towards achieving our own goals.
We start the series with the famous Frenchman Louis Braille. Despite facing an uncertain future as a blind person in 19th-century France, he developed the Braille system, which is internationally recognized for revolutionising reading and writing communications for blind people.
1. Have any of you made New Year’s resolutions this year?
You may wish students to raise their hands in response.
What goals are you working towards?
2. All of us will have something that we hope to achieve during the coming year. I’m going to tell you about a man who has been a great inspiration to many people. His name is Louis Braille. You might already recognise the famous surname, because Braille is the coded system used today by blind people for reading and writing. It is used everywhere in daily life, from bus stops to maps to textbooks, as well as on pill dispensers and bank statement, food packaging and musical scores. This means that people with little or no eyesight can live independent and fulfilling lives.
The 21st-century technological revolution in digital communications means that Braille is as relevant now as ever. Computer devices with Braille keyboards or portable Braille note-taking machines mean that blind people can read and write in multiple languages.
Show an example of Braille.
3. Braille was first developed in the 19th century. Times were very different in those days and life was hard for people, especially the poor. There was no mass media to spread news quickly and, although Louis Braille taught his system to as many people as he could, the idea of Braille encountered strong resistance and Louis eventually died unaware of the revolutionary impact his invention would have worldwide in helping people.
4. Louis Braille on born on 4 January 1809 near Paris. By the age of four he had lost his sight in both eyes. During this period of history many blind people relied on begging for money. Louis' parents didn’t want this to happen and realised the importance of his receiving a good education.
Louis grew up with a passion for learning from a young age. He excelled at the local school but soon found that his achievements were being limited. When he was 10, a landowner recognised Louis' ability, and gave him a scholarship to the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris.
5. The Royal Institute for Blind Youth had been set up for charitable reasons, to ensure that its pupils gained practical skills so they could eventually earn a living in the difficult conditions of the 19th century. The school was damp and unpleasant, and Louis missed home.
Alongside practical skills, pupils were taught to read using a system called 'raised type', where letter shapes were created by pressing copper wire on to a page. Louis was clever, but found the system frustrating and slow. Also, this method did not allow people to write for themselves.
6. In 1821 army captain Charles Barbier visited the school and demonstrated a different method - a coded system using raised dots and dashes. These could be combined to represent different sounds and had been designed for soldiers to send and receive messages at night, without speaking. The idea was too complex and was rejected by the army, but Louis quickly realised its potential. Over the next few years, he experimented, developing a system using just six dots. He continued to work on his scheme, creating separate codes for maths and music.
7. By 1824, aged just 15, Louis had found 63 ways to use a 6-dot cell in an area the size of a fingertip. He had perfected the precise placing for the pattern of raised dots when writing Braille.
In 1827, the first book in Braille was published. Louis became a respected teacher and despite resistance spread the use of Braille wherever he went. He also became an accomplished musician, playing in churches all over France.
Sadly, he died from tuberculosis in 1852, just two days after his 43rd birthday.
8. Although Louis was admired by his pupils, his system of Braille was not recognised in his lifetime. In 1868 Dr Thomas Armitage set up the British and Foreign Society for Improving the Embossed Literature for the Blind’, the forerunner to the RNIB (the Royal National Institute of Blind People). Dr Armitage began to champion the use of Braille and today it is used by millions of people worldwide. In the 163 years since Louis Braille’s death, he has been honoured for his legacy all over the world. Coins have been minted in his honour, statues erected, films made and a museum dedicated to his life.
Thanks to Louis Braille, many blind and partially sighted people can live full, exciting, inspired and wonderful lives.
Time for reflection
At this time of New Year let us reflect upon past events and look forward to the future. Let’s think about our lives and our hopes for the coming twelve months.
Perhaps, like Louis Braille, we may achieve something that will change people’s lives.
However, in the short term, we may need to commit to aiming for higher grades at school, getting fitter, raising money for a charitable cause or caring for those around us.
Think about something in your life that you would like to achieve.
How will you move towards that goal?
Thank you for the inspirational people from all walks of life who motivate and inspire us to do our best and to try to be better people.
Please help us to appreciate everything we have, and help us to make the most of our own gifts and talents, whilst thinking of other people.