Braille Literacy Awareness Month: The Genius of Louis Braille

Cover of Louis Braille: Touch of Genius

During Braille Literacy Awareness Month, VisionAware is celebrating the life and work of Louis Braille (January 4, 1809 – January 6, 1852), the creator of the braille code, which revolutionized reading and writing for blind people throughout the world.

Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius

This week, our Louis Braille celebration features Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius, authored by C. Michael Mellor and published by National Braille Press. The mission of National Braille Press is to promote the literacy of blind children through braille and to provide access to information that empowers blind people to actively engage in work, family, and community affairs.

About the Book

Excerpted from the jacket copy:

In the early weeks of 1809, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin, and Louis Braille were born. These three remarkable men would lend their brilliance to a century of great change and innovation, but only one escaped fame in his lifetime.

Louis Braille was born sighted, and accidentally blinded himself at the age of three. He was fortunate to be sent to Paris to board at one of the world’s first schools for blind children. There, at the age of 12, he began to work tirelessly on a revolutionary system of reading and writing by touch. Braille’s passion to improve life for “my fellows in misfortune” was the driving force behind his creation of a code of raised dots that gave blind people the gift of literacy for the first time, whether they speak French, Chinese, or Urdu. His collaboration on the invention of the raphigraphe, a precursor to the dot-matrix printer, is further testimony to his creativity and innovativeness.

Drawing on primary sources that sort fact from fiction, Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius is the first full-color biography to include 31 never-before-translated letters, some written by Braille’s own hand. An extraordinary collection of documents, photographs, and artistic works enhances the bibliographic narrative of the phases of Braille’s life – as a child and student, talented musician, beloved teacher, astute businessman, and genius inventor.

On the National Braille Press website, you can also:

About the Author

C. Michael Mellor

C. Michael Mellor embarked on a biography of Louis Braille when he first saw the letters of Louis Braille on display at l’Institut National de Jeunes Aveugles, the school in Paris where Louis was a student, teacher, and creator of an embossed code that carries his name.

As editor of the Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind for eighteen years, Mr. Mellor has long held a fascination for braille. His published paper, “Making a Point: The Crusade for a Universal Embossed Code in the United States,” was delivered at the International Conference on “The Blind in History and the History of the Blind,” in Paris, France, where he came upon Louis’s extant letters and decided to translate them for publication. He holds an M.A. in the History of Science from the University of Leeds in England, where he was born.

You can listen to a National Public radio interview with Mr. Mellor at the National Braille Press website.

More about the Braille Code

The braille alphabet is based upon a “cell” that is composed of six dots, arranged in two columns of three dots each. Each braille letter of the alphabet or other symbol, such as a comma, is formed by using one or more of the six dots that are contained in the braille cell.

The following chart provides a good example of the design of the braille alphabet. You can download this free braille alphabet card from the National Braille Press website:

the braille alphabet

Types of Braille

Braille has codes for writing text, music, and technical material for math and science. Text or literary braille has two forms: non-contracted, or alphabetic, braille and contracted braille:

  • Alphabetic braille, formerly called Grade One, writes out each letter and word exactly as it is spelled out in print. For example, in alphabetic braille the word “can” is written by using three separate braille cells – one cell for each of the three letters in the word “can.” If you’re interested primarily in writing shopping lists, keeping telephone numbers, or writing labels or brief notes, alphabetic braille may meet your needs.
  • Literary braille, formerly called Grade Two, is also called “contracted” braille. For example, in literary (or contracted) braille the word “can” is written in a highly condensed or contracted form, using only one braille cell to represent the entire word. The majority of books and magazines are written in literary braille because it requires much less space than does alphabetic braille. If you want to read novels, magazines, or newspapers in braille, it is recommended that you learn to read and write literary braille.

How to Buy the Book

Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius is available for purchase at the National Braille Press website, in the following formats: (a) braille, (b) ebraille (CD-ROM), (c) ebraille (download), and (d) print. For a limited time, the price of the braille or print edition is $20.00 (regularly $35.00).

Resources for Braille

The following resources can help you learn more about braille:

Thank you to Diane L. Croft, Publisher, National Braille Press, for her assistance with assembling the source material for this story.