A New Method: The Story of Louis Braille
Chapter 5. The Teacher
Louis lived a busy and productive life at the Institute. He studied the organ, played for church services, and took classes at the College de France. When he was seventeen years old, he began to tutor younger students at the Institute. Two years later, he was appointed to a full time teaching position. He taught grammar, geography, arithmetic, and music. In return, he received room and board at the Institute and a small salary.
Louis Braille was a kind, compassionate teacher. He was greatly admired and respected by his students. One of his pupils wrote of him:
“He carried out his duties with so much charm and wisdom that the obligation of attending class was transformed into a real pleasure for his pupils. They competed not only to equal and surpass each other, but also in a touching and constant effort to please a teacher whom they admired as a superior and liked as a wise and well-informed friend, ready with sound advice.”
The Institute, with its damp, dark rooms, poor ventilation, and inadequate food, was an unhealthy environment in which to live and work. Many of the students became sick. Louis’ health began to fail when he was in his early twenties, and by the time he was twenty-six, he knew he had tuberculosis. At that time, there was no cure for the illness. The main treatment was rest.
Louis continued to revise and perfect his raised dot alphabet. He removed the dashes that were in his original plan. (Although dashes are easy to read by touch, they are difficult to write with a stylus.) He added the letter w at the request of an English student at the school. (His original alphabet did not include a w because w was rarely used in the French alphabet at that time).
He then turned his efforts toward developing a way that blind people and seeing people could write to each other. He knew that not many sighted people would learn the raised dot alphabet, therefore, blind people would have to learn the regular alphabet.
Louis developed a system that consisted of using a stylus to punch a series of dots in patterns that were the shapes of the regular letters. Blind people could read the letters by feeling them, and seeing people could read the letters with their eyes. He called the method Raphigraphy. The students at the Institute happily used it to write letters to their parents and friends.
It took much longer to punch dots in the shapes of letters than it did to punch the dots of the regular braille alphabet. Pierre Foucault offered to help Louis solve this problem. Pierre, who became blind when he was six, had a brilliant mind for mechanical matters. He invented a machine which he called a Keyboard Printer. When a key was pressed, the shape of a letter was made on a piece of paper in ink; the shape of the letter was also impressed on the paper in a raised outline. It was one of the first typewriters.
In 1838 the government provided money to replace the old rundown building that housed the Institute. The new building was completed in 1843. At a special program celebrating the opening of the new school, Joseph Guadet, assistant director of the Institute, gave a speech about the advantages of the raised dot method. He paid tribute to its inventor, Louis Braille, who was in the audience.
Next there were demonstrations to prove to the audience that blind people really could read and write. Someone from the audience dictated a poem, and a young blind girl wrote the poem in braille. Another blind girl who was out of the room during the dictation came back to the room and easily read, without mistakes, what the first girl had written. They did a similar experiment with music braille. This was the first official recognition of the braille method, and the beginning of its spread throughout the world.
Next: Chapter 6. Last Years