The Braille alphabet: what is it?

The Braille alphabet: what is it?

Readable writing for those who cannot see. On the surface it might seem like a set of randomly placed dots, but, if you pause carefully, you can see how those dots have a much deeper meaning.

The Braille alphabet is today an essential tool for blind people to be able to read. As explained by the Ability Channel website, it consists of 6 (or 8) dots, arranged in an ideal rectangle, corresponding to that of the index finger of the hand.

The arrangement of the dots allows you to distinguish one letter from another, for a total of 64 different combinations, through which you can tell stories, do math operations, compose music, and more.


To invent all this was the ingenuity of the young Louis Braille. Born in 1809 in Coupvray, not far from Paris, little Louis was distinguished by his curiosity, typical of children, which pushed him to learn about the world. The thing that fascinated him the most, however, was the work of his father, who in his shop made harnesses for horses and saddles.

Unfortunately, one bad day, there was an accident in the shop and Louis lost sight in both eyes. At the time, the only possible fate for blind people was to become beggars. Louis’s family did not give up and decided to enroll him in school anyway, hoping that the child would still be able to study.

Unfortunately, the institutions of that time were not prepared to accommodate a blind student and as a result, Louis had to drop out of school. The family did not want to give up and so they decided to enroll the boy in a school that had recently opened: the Institute of the Blind in Paris, founded by Valentin Hauy.


The school maintained a rigor and a very severe attitude towards the pupils. The lessons consisted mainly of exercises aimed at making the children learn the manual skills necessary to become apprentices in the workshop, in particular for the construction of furniture and chairs.

To read, the director Valentin HaĆ¼y had invented a particular method: by applying a copper wire to one side of the paper, it was possible to obtain reliefs of the letters of the text, which the children could then recognize by touch.


Things seemed to change when a soldier named Charles Barbiere visited the Institute in 1821. He had devised a reading system that would allow soldiers to read and communicate in the dark and in silence.

The formula adopted by Barbier consisted in using dots, which were arranged in order to reproduce the sounds of the words and not the alphabet. The system was eventually deemed too complex for the students and was soon abandoned.


Barbier’s nocturnal writing was too complicated. But for Louis Braille, not everything was to be thrown away, on the contrary…

Point-based writing could be a good starting point for further development. Thus was born the Louis Braille alphabet.

The invention was an immediate success, but not everyone agreed in adopting it: many schools banned it, marking it as prohibited. Paradoxically, the ban on using Braille only fueled its popularity: blind people immediately adopted it as a point of reference.

The Braille alphabet today is an essential tool, used in practically all countries of the world, adapted to almost every known language, including Albanian and Zulu.

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