“I want to be like my dad” thought young Louis, as he grabbed at an awl and tried to punch holes in the leather like he had seen his father do so many times. As he pressed harder to punch the hole, the awl slipped across the smooth surface of the leather and hit him in the eye. Agony! His parent did everything they could to patch it up but his eye got infected and the infection spread to his other eye blinding him in both eyes.
Louis slowly came to terms to his blindness and excelled despite it. He proved himself to be an extremely creative student with great ear for music in his village school. However, he had a burning desire to educate himself better and he left home when he was 10 to the Royal Institute of Blind Youth.
The school was started was by famous French philanthropist Valentin Haüy with the intention of developing a place for blind children to interact and learn together. Louis eagerly went to the school library to read the books for the blind. However, there were only 4 books there. The book had big letters embossed on it such that they protruded and the blind children could feel the letters and hence read the word. However, Louis found this extremely cumbersome. It took him nearly 3-4 seconds to read each letter and the book was also extremely bulky and could contain only a limited amount of information.
It was then that he heard about the military cryptographic method of writing pioneered by Captain Charles Barbier in which the soldiers would receive paper containing information where each letter was represented by 12 dots. This was done because otherwise the soldiers had to light messages to read texts during the night and this often gave away their position. 12 year old Louis immediately realized the significance of this technique for blind people. He began working on a system of dots that could be easily felt by blind people to read text. By the time he was 14, Louis had perfected a system by which he could represent each French letter by 6 dots (3 rows of 2 dots each) such that a blind person could make out a letter by a single touch.
Louis used an awl ( the same instrument that had blinded him) to punch holes that were small and could be read easily. He also placed metal strips so that people would read along the same straight line. However, his invention did not become an instant success. In fact his writing system was not taught by his school in his lifetime though it was adopted by other schools in France. He slowly perfected the system and its use gradually spread with the help of Dr. Armitage a champion of blind education.
The script was named Braille after him and is still in use all over the world. Louis Braille realized that education was the most important factor that could allow a blind person to live life normally and be competitive.
Louis Braille is probably the greatest example that with perseverance and determination, anyone can turn his weaknesses into not just his strength but also help it become a source of strength for others.