A boy in France created a way for blind people to read and write. The boy’s name was Louis Braille (loo-ee brayl). He was blind, having lost his sight in a childhood accident.The system he created uses small raised bumps to represent letters of the alphabet, numbers, and punctuation marks. By feeling the bumps with a finger, blind people can read the letters. The system that Louis created came to be called braille, in his honor. His last name, like all names, is written with a capital letter: Braille. His system of writing, however, is written with a small letter: braille.January 4, which is Louis Braille’s birthday, is called World Braille Day.Braille created a tactile method of reading and writing. Tactile means our sense of touch. So tactile reading is reading by touching instead of seeing.Louis Braille was born on January 4, 1809, in Coupvray, France. His parents, Simon-René and Monique Braille, were leather workers. They made harnesses, saddles, and other horse-related equipment.When Louis was three, he was in their workshop. He picked up an awl (a sharp, pointed metal tool for punching holes in leather) and accidentally poked himself in the eye with it. The eye became infected and the infection spread to the other eye. By the time he was five, Louis was blind in both eyes.There were not many options for blind children at that time. But his parents wanted Louis to be educated, so they enrolled him in the village school. He learned by listening. He was such a good student that when he was 10, he received a scholarship to attend the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris.This school was the first one of its kind, where blind students were taught school subjects and job skills.Louis wished there was a way that blind people could read and write, and beginning at age 11, he tried to imagine ways that that would be possible. One day, the school was visited by an man named Charles Barbier, who was an officer in the French army.Barbier had invented a code that used 12 raised dots. The code was designed so military messages could be read silently at night in the dark. It was referred to as ‘night writing.’ Soldiers decoded the messages by feeling the dots. Barbier visited the school because he thought perhaps his code system, which he called sonography, could be useful for blind people.Barbier’s system, however, was very hard to learn and to use. Different combinations of bumps represented different sounds—sonography means sound writing. Soldiers had trouble with the system because those from various parts of France spoke with different accents. Sounds that made sense to some soldiers might not make sense to others when, in their minds, they tried to put the sounds together into words.The idea of using bumps for writing excited young Louis. From age 12 to 15, he studied sonography and worked at making it easier. What he came up with is this: instead of using combinations of twelve dots, he used only six. And instead of the dots representing sounds, he made them represent letters.The bumps for each letter are arranged in two columns of three bumps. These two columns are called a cell. Each cell represents a single letter. In a cell there could be anywhere from one to six bumps. The number of bumps and where they are in the cell is important. By touching the cells one at a time with a finger, a person can read the letters and put them together into words.By the time Louis was 20, he was a teacher at the Institute. He taught the students his system of reading and writing. They learned it quickly and found it easy to use. It wasn’t until after his death in 1852 that Braille’s system spread all over the world and became the accepted way for blind people to read and write.Today, many books are published in braille. Almost any popular book you can think of is available—everything from  Stuart Little, Flat Stanley, and the Magic Tree House series up to Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Sherlock Holmes mysteries. There are braille versions of major religious works, such as the Bible, and of classics such as Shakespeare’s plays.There are also braille versions of many games, such as braille Uno and braille Monopoly.Fun Facts:•  Today, many blind people, instead of reading with their fingers, prefer to listen to audio books. And there are computer programs that will read web pages out loud, making it easier to do research and study.•  Adults who can see, read around 300 words a minutes. A blind person can read braille at around 125 words a minute, which is still pretty fast. However, some people are able to read braille up to 400 words a minute!•  Want to see some braille? In elevators, the floor numbers are written in braille next to the buttons. ATM machines (money machines at banks) have instructions in braille on them.

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