It is 200 years since the birth of Louis Braille. For me who collect "Blind on stamps" it is time to celebrate many commemorative issues worldwide throughout 2009. The first stamps issued in January have just arrived.
Louis Braille was the inventor of braille, a world-wide system used by blind and visually impaired people for reading and writing. He was born in Coupvray, France, on January 4, 1809. Braille is read by passing the fingers over characters made up of an arrangement of one to six embossed points. It has been adapted to almost every known language.
Louis Braille became blind at the age of 3, when he accidentally stabbed himself in one eye with an auger, one of his father's workshop tools and got an infection, the other eye went blind from the infection spreading to it. At the age of 10, Braille earned a scholarship to the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris, one of the first of its kind in the world. Braille, a bright and creative student, became a talented cellist and organist in his time at the school, playing the organ for churches all over France.
In 1821, Charles Barbier, a Captain in the French Army, visited the school to show the children his invention, called "Night writing." This was a code of 12 raised dots and a number of dashes that let soldiers share top-secret information on the battlefield without having to speak. The code was too difficult for Louis to understand, and he later changed the number of raised dots to 6 to form what we today call Braille. The same year Louis began inventing his raised-dot system with his father's ice fishing auger, finishing at age 15, in 1824. His system used only six dots and corresponded to letters. The six-dot system allowed the recognition of letters with a single fingertip apprehending all the dots at once, requiring no movement or repositioning which slowed recognition in systems requiring more dots. These dots consisted of patterns in order to keep the system easy to learn and being possible to both read and write an alphabet.
Braille later extended his system to include notation for mathematics and music. The first book in braille was published in 1829 under the title Method of Writing Words, Music, and Plain Songs by Means of Dots, for Use by the Blind and Arranged for Them. Braille became a well-respected teacher at the Institute. Although he was admired and respected by his pupils, his braille system was not taught at the Institute during his lifetime. Louis Braille died in Paris of tuberculosis on January 6, 1852 at the age of 43; his body was disinterred in 1952 (the centenary of his death) and honored with re-interment in the Panthéon in Paris. His system was finally, officially recognized in France two years after his death, in 1854.