I was born in a little town near Paris in 1809. My father was a cobbler. When I was three years old, I crept into my father’s shop to make shoes. But the awl, a sharp pointed tool used to pierce holes in leather, slipped from my hands and pierced my eye, destroying it forever. Soon my other eye also got infected, and by the time I was four years old, my vision was lost.
At school, I discovered that there were special books for us. Since these books had large letters that were raised off the pages, their pages were very big and the books were heavy and bulky. I started to read the books enthusiastically, but soon I found it a tiring exercise. It took me so long to ‘feel and read’ the books that there was no enjoyment left in the experience. This set me thinking.
One day in 1821 Charles Barbier, a soldier visited our school. He brought with him a system called ‘night writing’ that he had invented, at Nepolian’s request, which would help soldiers in the battle front to communicate with one another without talking or showing a light that would reveal their position. It was made of 12 raised dots that could be combined to represent different words and sounds.
I saw the potentiality of the system. Over the next few months I worked hard, simplified Barbier’s code until I had developed a clear and simple system of writing that used only six dots. I also discovered that my father’s awl- the very tool that damaged my eye – was perfect for making the raised dots. I also developed an alphabet made up entirely of six dots.