January 4, 1809 was the birth date of Louis Braille, inventor of a reading and writing system for use by the blind or visually impaired. As a result of a childhood accident, Louis Braille was blind by the age of five. But by the time he turned 15, he had invented the basic Braille Alphabet. Learning important skills like reading, writing, math and science can be challenging for anyone, but if a student doesn’t have access to the right tools, it can be nearly impossible. With the Braille Alphabet, Louis Braille helped those dealing with major vision problems to learn and thrive, both in school and in daily life.
Over the years, equally important tools have been developed for those with hearing loss, physical limitations, mental health conditions, autism spectrum disorder and other issues that require specific assistance. Celebrating Louis Braille’s story is an excellent way to start a discussion about the differences that exist between us, how to be respectful of those with physical and mental limitations and how, in the end, our similarities often outweigh our differences.
Thank you for being a part of the Professional Educators Network. We hope you enjoy this new installment of History’s ARTifacts. Please watch the educational video with your students, download the poster by this month’s artist, Justin Nelson, and watch Justin’s Meet the Artist video.
Meet the Artist: Justin Nelson
Activities for Louis Braille
Louis Braille invented a system that allowed blind people to read, opening up an entire world of education to millions around the world. Although not widely adopted in his lifetime, the Braille system now is the default way blind people can read. Today, society has made changes that allow people of differing abilities more physical and educational access to the world. Have your class discuss the history of access, from wheelchair accessibility to sign language interpretation to Braille signage in public spaces.
The Braille system uses a series of six raised dots. The dots are arranged in two columns, each three dots high. Given these parameters, there are a limited number of characters that can be represented in this fashion. Have your students calculate the total number of characters in the Braille system. Every dot can be either raised or not; therefore, for each of the six dots, there are two choices. This results in 2*2*2*2*2*2=26=64 different patterns of raised/unraised dots. How many more characters could be represented by adding one more column the same height as the other two? This would be 2*2*2*2*2*2*2*2*2=29=512.
Louis Braille was blinded at age three after an accident with an awl. The accident only affected one eye, but an infection spread to both, making him completely blind by age five. Antibiotics, like penicillin, were not invented until the early part of the 20th century. Infection and disease which had previously killed millions in the century before were all but eliminated due to the use of antibiotics. This had a positive effect on life expectancy, which has quickly and steadily increased in the last 100 years. Discuss other scientific advancements which have had positive and negative consequences for the human population. You can also discuss the effect scientific progress has had for the whole environment, including plants, animals and ecosystems.
Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille by Jen Bryant is a picture book biography of the life and times of Louis Braille. Louis can serve as an inspiration for young people as he suffered and accomplished so much at such a young age. Despite his affliction, his parents were determined that Louis become educated, and, as a result, he ended up inventing a system of reading that is used by millions of people every day. The book can open up classroom discussions about ability, determination, adaptation and perseverance.
This month’s poster by artist Justin Nelson was created in the Abstract style. Students can research abstract artists like Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian and Sonia Delaunay. Have them create their own abstract pieces using painting, sketching and drawing techniques.