Louis Braille Featured on Belarus Stamp

On January 4, 2009 the Ministry of Communications and Information of the Republic of Belarus issued a stamp in honor of Louis Braille. The stamp was designed by Yevgeni Simonenko and Ivan Lukin and marked the 200th birthday of the inventor of braille, the tactile reading and writing system used world-wide by blind and vision-impaired people.

Louis Braille was born in Coupvray, a small town near Paris, on January 4, 1809. When he was 3 years old he was playing in his father's harness and leather goods workshop and injured his eye with an awl. The eye became infected, and the infection spread. Although he was treated by both a local doctor and specialist from Paris, they could not save his sight. He became blind in both eyes.

Braille was bright and diligent and learned to navigate around his neighborhood using canes his father made for him. He went to school with his friends, learning by listening carefully to his teachers. He did so well in the local school he was able to get a scholarship to the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris, when he was 10 years old.

The man who founded the Royal Institute, Valentin Haüy, wanted blind students to have access to books. He developed a method of raised letters that could be touched in order to teach blind people to read, and compose sentences. His method proved that the sense of touch was a potentially good strategy, but the letters were hard to read and it was difficult and expensive to create books with them. The school had a total of 14 books with raised letters.

Official First Day Cover for the Belarus Loius Braille commemorative featuring a color cache
and special cancel showing the alphabet he invented to enable blind people to read.

A breakthrough came when Louis was 12 years old. Charles Barbier, an ex-soldier, visited the school and told them about the night writing he'd developed so that soldiers could get messages or share secret information without speaking or lighting a match. Barbier's writing used a code of raised dots. The problem was that he was working with as many as 12 dots per letter and it was hard to read and learn. Braille simplified the code to use only 6 dot positions to form letters.

His classmates liked his adaptation, but the Institute did not accept it. Even after Braille became a teacher at the school, the school rejected the approach. It is said that Pierre-Armand Dufau, who became the director of the institute in 1840, did not like Louis' code because he was afraid that there would be no need for sighted teachers if all blind students could read using braille. Nevertheless, Braille taught his method secretly and as he was also a talented musician, he adapted it to record musical notation as well.

Louis Braille died of tuberculosis at age 43. Six months later the school adopted his 6 dot system, and within a few years it was used world-wide.

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