It was the early part of the nineteenth century. In a small village near Paris, France, lived a man who made leather harnesses and other products. One day, his three year old son entered his workshop, took one of his sharp awl, and accidentally, injured one of his eyes. Very soon , his other eye was also infected, and the little boy became blind.
But this courageous boy was not to give up so
easily. He went to the village school with his sighted friends for
two years. When he grew up, he went to a school for blinds in Paris,
the first of its kind in the world.
This school had only thirteen books for the blinds. They were also taught to read but not to write. The letters they read were raised above the surface of the page so that they could feel them with their fingertips. This form of writing was very difficult to read because it was very hard to tell the letters apart. The letters were printed by pressing copper wire into one side of the paper to make a raised shape on the other. Because each individual letter had to be made out of wire first and because the wire then had to be forced into the paper with a press blind people were unable to write anything for themselves.
In 1821 a soldier named Charles Barbier came to visit the school. He bought with him a system he had invented called 'night writing'. 'Night writing' had originally been designed so that soldiers could pass instructions along trenches at night without having to talk and give their positions away. It consisted of twelve raised dots which could be combined to represent different sounds. Unfortunately it proved to be too complex for soldiers to master and was therefore rejected by the army.
The young boy understood the utility of this system. Working over it day and night, he finally found the ideal one using six dots, which he and others like him could use to communicate within themselves.