The raised dot system now known as "braille" was pioneered by a young Frenchman called Louis Braille.

About Louis Braille

Louis lost his sight through a childhood accident. Aged 10, he was sent to the Royal Institution for Blind Youth. It was at the Institute in 1821 that Louis was first introduced to the idea of using a coded system of raised dots.

Charles Barbier, a captain in Napoleon's army, visited the school to demonstrate his "night writing". This was a tactile system designed for soldiers to send and receive messages at night without speaking. It used raised dots and dashes rather than actual letters.

Finding the code

Louis quickly realised how useful Barbier's system could be, but thought it was too complicated. Over the next few years he worked hard to develop his own version of the code, using just six dots (instead of Barbier's 12) to represent the standard alphabet.

By 1824, aged just 15 years old, Louis had found 63 ways to use a six-dot cell in an area no larger than a fingertip. He had also perfected his "planchette" or writing slate, which gave precise placing for the pattern of raised dots when writing braille.

He went on to develop signs for mathematics and even music.

It took two years after his death for his code, by now referred to as braille, to be adopted as the official communications system for blind people in France.

If you would like to learn more about the Louis Braille Story, then you can listen to a Radio 4 programme on his life, featuring the politician David Blunkett. There are also various books available in the RNIB Library.

Resistance to braille

While the use of braille spread to many countries, it continued to encounter strong resistance. This is thought to be because braille didn't look like print, and therefore wasn't easy for sighted people to read.

RNIB's role promoting braille

In the UK, a small group of blind people helped overcome the early resistance to braille.

Thomas Rhodes Armitage, a wealthy physician who had sight problems himself, brought together a group of blind people and founded the British and Foreign Society for Improving the Embossed Literature for the Blind. They tested different communication systems for the blind and surveyed many blind readers. In 1870 they made the decision that braille would be the best choice for Britain. This group later went on to become RNIB.

Download our chronology of how RNIB has developed the use of braille in the UK since we were founded in 1868: