Friday, January 4, 2008

Happy 199th Birthday

One day a small, four-year-old boy be took himself into the father’s workroom to play there. He often saw his father making shoes and decided to try it as well. He took the awl and a pointed tool and tried to make a whole in the leather just as his father did it. But the awl glided down and pricked his eye. The injury was so serious, that the boy couldn’t see anything with that eye anymore. On top of it the other eye was infected, too and the child absolutely lost its sight. This happened not far from Paris in 1813. The name of the boy was Louis Braille.
When he was 6 years old he started to attend the village-school together with other pupils, who could see normally. After two years it was obvious, that without the possibility of reading and writing he won’t learn anything more and that without the education he will end up as a beggar. . .
But he was lucky: When he was ten, he was sent to the school for blinds in Paris, one of the first in the world. The conditions at school were very tough, the building was moist and unhealthy and the discipline hard. The pupils were taught some working skills and once a week they went for a walk in the park. But they also learn how to read. The letter, which they were reading, were jutting our of the surface of the page and so it was possible to ”read” them with touch. Such reading was very difficult because to recognise separate letters was not easy. The letter were printed by pressing the stencil, made from cuprous wire, into the paper. This way the jutted shape of the appropriate letter arose on the other side. Because this cumbersome method demanded the wire-stencils of the letters and the press it didn’t allow the communication among the blinds.
In 1821 the captain of the French artillery Charles Barbier visited the school. He brought with him his invention called the ”night writing”. This writing was originally designed for soldiers. This should allow them to pass over the information without switching on the light. It consisted of 12 bulging points, combined in different way. But the system was too complicated for the soldiers and the army refused it.
The young Louis Braille fast realised, how helpful could such a system of bulging points be. During next few months he had been experimenting with different systems until he found one that operated with only 6 points. He had been innovating his system for several years and he also developed special codes for mathematics and the notation. In 1827 the first book was published in his Braille. However this new system didn’t find its position immediately. Some conservative teachers didn’t trust on that or even showed the aversion.
In the end Louis Braille became a teacher in that school, where he used to be the pupil. He was respected admired by his pupils. But he didn’t live to see the expansion of his system. He died of tuberculoses in 1852, at the age of 43. The Braille’s system was accepted first in 1854 and since then it has been used by the blind all over the France. In the end of 70´s in the 19th century the Braille gets over the German lingual area to the Czech countries. After several years of hesitation connected with numerous disputations the Braille definitely won. But also the blinds indispensably assisted in it, because from the entire beginning they assumed the Braille with demonstrative interest and joy and they learned it among themselves.

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