Louis Braille was born in 1809 in Coupvray, France, a city around 25 miles from Paris. His father worked as a harness maker. When he was three, he was playing in his father's workshop and accidentally stuck a pointed tool in his eye. The eye became infected, and the infection spread to his other eye, eventually blinding him completely. Traditionally, the blind at that time were doomed to live in poverty and ignorance, but Braille's intelligence and desire to learn were soon recognized. The village priest and a schoolteacher helped him get into school in the village and then to be sent to the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris.

Of course, the greastest obstacle to the education of the blind is their inability to read printed books. Valentin Hauy, the founder of the school in Paris which Louis was attending, had invented a system of raised letters on paper that could be read by touch. They were the letters of the standard alphabet, only embossed and raised so they could be felt. Naturally, this system was very difficult to use. The letter "I" may feel very similar to the letter "l" or the number "1".

Louis Braille became familiar with a system called "ecriture nocturne" or "night writing" devised in 1819 by a captain of the French army named Charles Barbier. Night writing used patterns of raised dots and dashes made on heavy paper. It was intended for use by soldiers who had to communicate in the dark or when silence was necessary. The soldiers could poke the dots and dashes into the paper with a stylus.

However, this system was rather complex. It wasn't based on the alphabet. Instead of corresponding to letters, the groups of dots and dashes corresponded to sounds, often requiring many codes for a single word. Though the system worked pretty well with short text, longer works would clearly become long and complicated.

Braille liked the use of raised dots in the Barbier system because it was easy to read and also easy to write. He tried to imporve the system and within three years, when he was fifteen, had come up with his own system, the basics of which are still used today. The system's popularity gradually spread throughout the world. In 1835, Louis contracted tuberculosis, which killed him shortly after his 43rd birthday in 1852.

Info resource: "CODE" by Charles Petzold of Microsoft