Photo taken in Visan, land of a million cats! Whether slightly color-blind, like this black-and-white cat, or completely non-voyant, Louis Braille believed that the gift of literacy belonged to everyone. Read more about this remarkable Frenchman who, as a child, would change the world.

non-voyant (nohn-voy-ahn) noun, masculine*

    : visually handicapped person

* the feminine is "non-voyante" (nohn-voy-ahnt)

French definition:
  "une personne qui ne voit pas; aveugle"
  (a person who does not see; blind)

AUDIO FILE: My son, Max, offered this example sentence. Click on the link to hear it:
  Les non-voyants utilisent le braille pour lire.
  (The blind use Braille to read.) Download MP3 or Wav file

We were at the breakfast table when the usual "Ça—c'est ma place!" and "Quit hogging the jam!" conversation turned into a thoughtful hymn... on blindness.

"Did you know," I began, "that the person who invented Braille was not much older than you when he created the system that would allow the blind to read?" I said to my son, who balanced a near-empty jar of jam over a slice of brioche—this, while glaring at his soeur cadette.

"What is "braille?" Jackie wanted to know, repeating the word as she had heard her Anglophone mother pronounce it (BREL).

Jean-Marc, who had caught the tail end of the conversation, piped in.
"Brel est un chanteur."
"No! I'm not talking about Jacques Brel!" I felt my feathers ruffling, and only two minutes into an uncharacteristic history lesson.

"She means 'Braille'," Max explained, clearing up any confusion by offering the French pronunciation of "Braille" (which, to my surprise, was "BR-EYE"!). Next, my son popped up, and hurried over to the cupboard to fish out a box of sucre.

"NO MORE SUGAR!" I cried, "and will you please listen! I am trying to..."

Max quickly turned the box of sugar to its side, and pointed out the raised dots.

"I had never noticed that before!" I said, running my finger down the side of the box, over the "lettered" relief. Are you sure that is Braille—and not some kind of bar code?"

On second thought, why wouldn't it be Braille, and why, by the way, weren't the jam jar and the milk carton sporting raised dots, too? With that, I ran my finger across all of the packages along our table top. That is when I realized that the box of sugar was the only package that could be read or identified by a non-voyant!

A sense of shame washed over me as I experienced another taken-for-granted privilege: that of correctly identifying a pot de confiture or a carton de lait. My guilty conscience automatically reacted, with the clearing of the throat and a swift returning to the former subject.

"As I was saying... it was a child who created this extraordinary system...." I tried to think of what to say next, but my mind was vaguely troubled. Thankfully, my daughter spoke next.

"Sometimes adults create things too," Jackie pointed out.

Le Coin Commentaires

Corrections, feedback, and stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box.

If we were talking about blindness at the breakfast table this morning, it is thanks to Kathi Koegle, who had written me a few weeks ago, inquiring about "off-the-beaten-track villages" that one might visit in France. In the email exchange that ensued, I learned that Kathi, who works for the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired, had just been in charge of a bicentennial birthday party for Louis Braille.

It occurred to me that she might write an article for us all to enjoy and, when I asked, Kathi kindly obliged. Here, now, is her mini-biography on Louis Braille.

L o u i s  B r a i l l e
January 4, 1809 - January 6, 1852

This year marks the 200th birthday of Louis Braille, the man who invented literacy for blind people.

Braille was born in Coupvray, a tiny village about 25 miles east of Paris. The youngest of four children, he lived with his parents in a modest stone cottage in the village.

Braille's father was the local harness-maker. One day when he was three years old, Louis was at play in his father's workshop. A fateful accident and subsequent infection rendered him totally aveugle.

At the age of 10, Braille earned a scholarship to the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris. It was the world's first school for blind children. Louis was an outstanding élève, and he excelled in every subject. He also became a fine pianist and an accomplished organist.

photo from Wikipedia

While attending the Institution and yearning for more books to lire, Braille experimented with ways to create an alphabet that would be facile to read with one's fingertips. The system of raised dots that he devised--at age 15--evolved from the tactile "Ecriture Nocturne" code (invented by Charles Barbier, an artillery captain in the army of Louis XVIII) for sending military messages that could be read on the battle field at night sans light. Two years later, Braille adapted his method to musical notation.

Braille accepted a full-time teaching position at the Royal Institution for Blind Youth when he was 19. He taught grammar, geography, arithmetic, and music.

Sighted teachers and officials were slow to accept Braille's new method. It wasn't until 1844, eight years before he died, that the value of the Braille alphabet was officially recognized. Then, one after another, countries around the monde recognized the benefits of braille. Braille has now been adapted to more than 200 languages and dialects around the world.

Louis Braille died of Tuberculosis two days after his 43rd birthday. In 1952, his body was moved from a cemetery in Coupvray to the Pantheon in Paris to lie with other great women and men of France.

The stone house where Braille grew up is now a museum, and the street on which it stands is named Rue Louis Braille.

On the mur of the maison is a plaque that reads:

Dans cette maison est né le 4 janvier 1809 Louis Braille inventeur de l'écriture en points saillants pour les aveugles. Il a ouvert a tous ceux qui ne voient pas les portes du savoir.

In this house on January 4, 1809 was born Louis Braille, the inventor of the system of writing in raised dots for use by the blind. He opened the doors of knowledge to all those who cannot see.

Author bio: Kathi Koegle is Outreach & Development Manager for the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired. A former French teacher, Kathi and her husband are making plans for their third trip to Provence.

If you enjoyed Kathi's story, please join me in thanking her by letting her know in the comments box.

You may also leave her a personal message, here: kathi [AT] wcblind [DOT] org

Kathi adds: "Enjoy a few pix from the Council's recent Braille Bicentennial Birthday Party. Guests enjoyed baguettes and six different kinds of French cheeses." (View pictures at the end of this post.)

In children's books: "Louis Braille, The Boy Who Invented Books For The Blind" & Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius

French Vocabulary

ça—c'est ma place! = that is my seat!
la soeur (f) cadette = little sister
Brel est un chanteur = Brel is a singer
le sucre = sugar
le pot de confiture = jar of jam
le carton de lait = carton of milk
non-voyant,e (m/f) = blind
aveugle = blind
l'élève (m/f) = student
lire = to read
facile = easy
Ecriture Nocturne = night writing
sans = without
le monde = world
le mur = wall
la maison = house

Read about Therese-Adele Husson:  a young blind woman and writer from provincial France 

Capture plein écran 17012012 103208

 Reflections: The Life and Writings of a Young Blind Woman in Post-Revolutionary France

In the 1820s, several years before Braille was invented, Therese-Adele Husson, a young blind woman from provincial France, wrote an audacious manifesto about her life, French society, and her hopes for the future. Through extensive research and scholarly detective work, authors Catherine Kudlick and Zina Weygand have rescued this intriguing woman and the remarkable story of her life and tragic death from obscurity, giving readers a rare look into a world recorded by an unlikely historical figure.

Reflections is one of the earliest recorded manifestations of group solidarity among people with the same disability, advocating self-sufficiency and independence on the part of blind people, encouraging education for all blind children, and exploring gender roles for both men and women. Resolutely defying the sense of "otherness" which pervades discourse about the disabled, Husson instead convinces us that that blindness offers a fresh and important perspective on both history and ourselves. Click here to read more about this book.

SmartFrench : learn French from real French people!

In French film: The Double Life of Veronique

French music: Jacques Brel

Bonne Maman Strawberry Preserves

Kathi's photos taken at the celebration: Braille birthday party photos 005
A cheese close-up!

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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Thank you, Kathy and Kristin, for today's perceptive and insightful story. Braille opened not only the world of knowledge but also COMMUNICATION with the outside, seeing world. An incredible and everlasting achievement.

I sometimes wish that people could be awarded a Nobel price posthumously - for their historic achievements for mankind. Louis Braille would certainly be one at the the top of the list. As would, referring to the recent inauguration of Barrack Obama, Rosa Parks. One should have reserved a chair for her next to the president, as alas she could not be there in person any more. One could have honored her bravery in the year of 1955.
Thanks - Laura


When I was in my late 20s I learned to transcribe braille and was certified by the Library of Congress. I haven't brailled anything in years -- it's time-consuming and work took over. I assumed it would now be done with software, not with the kind of braille writer I used to have. But no -- they are still in use:
So perhaps now that I'm retired and have more time, I should take a refresher course.

Peter Lampen

Thanks for the interesting story about Louis Braille. He has recently been honored on French postage stamps celebrating the 200th anniversary of his birth.
As far as my personal experience goes, the French appear to be more advanced in use of braille to identify goods for purchase than we in the US. A good example is the well-known Rhone wine house Chapoutier who adds braille to the labels of his wine bottles. (Sorry to mention a competitor Jean-Marc, but Rouge-Bleu is better anyway.)


I enjoyed the entire post. Now I'm itching to investigate packaging here to see if any companies take the visually impaired into consideration. Thanks!

I love the pottery's door and cat . . .

Julie Schorr

Hi Kristin,
Please tell Max that Jacques Brel was Belgian, not French. Thank you for sharing this wonderful information about Louis Braille. It is a very inspirational story about an amazing life!


I live not very far from the lovely village of Coupvray -- they had an enormous fete for his anniversaire, and La Poste there had a special cancellation of the commemorative timbres issued for the occasion.

It's next on our list of things too see.

tom hamilton

I love these interesting and informative stories

Jules Greer

Kristi Darling,

Your stories just get better and better, loved Kathy's story. Secretly I sometimes wonder what on earth are you going to write about today - and then, I am suprised again.
Isn't it amazing after six years the stories keep coming. FWAD should have a newspaper column. I wish you would look into this, think of the income. I would think it would be great if the French newspapers would sponsor you, the French would love your column and you could improve their English. I know I'm off-subject for your story, I always am, but I just wanted you to know how proud I am of you. I love how your readers support you with their comments and stories. I'm going to give you an award today - 'JULES JEM' - and of course "Kathy" get's a 'JEM' too.

And never to forget our wonderful "NEWFOREST" who is the worlds greatest commentor...I always learn so much from NEWFOREST. I am her biggest fan....




Thank you, Kathi, for your interesting history of Louis Braille. I was happy to see that I share a birthday with him! Now I'm going to find myself searching the packages in my kitchen for Braille. I always thought it curious that they have Braille on the numbers at the drive-thru ATM at the bank....

Kristin, another great photo! I don't know the architectural lingo, but it amazes me to see that single piece of wood over the door holding up all of those stones for God only knows how many years. I picture the hands that fit all of those stones into their places.


Bonjour à tous: Si je me souviens bien, Jacques Brel était belge, pas français.

Kristin Espinasse

Re Jacques Brel: my fault! That's me putting words into Jean-Marc's mouth. Thanks for your help! Off to fix that one...


It gives me some hope that Jackie and Jean-Marc needed to have the word Braille verified by Max. But Max's mp3 file leaves no doubt about the correct pronunciation.
Here in Canada, our current series of bank notes have a tactile feature based on Braille cells.

Now I'm going outside to shovel snow :-)



Thank you Kathy and Kristin for a wonderful FWAD!

Salem Vouras

Thank you Kathi for that informative & inspiring bio! And thank you Kristin too!


Great blog! I use it to refresh my high school French lessons. Thanks to Kathy for the Braille story and photos!


Amazing story, Kathi. Just imagine developing this system at 15 years old. Thank you for sharing and to you, Kristin. The quartier around the Bastille on the Hopital Quinze Vingts side (behind the Opera) has adaptions for the visually impaired ie tweeting traffic signals. Since it's the central eye hospital of Paris it has an independent living center building for sight-impaired, a high rise in back of the courtyard. Residents can have a dog, but must be able to live on their own. Many shop at Marche d'Aligre nearby and it's common to meet them in cafe's.
Local cafe owners and shop keepers keep an eye out for them, protectionwise and it's very special...sorry to go on but I had to research a lot since my character was 'blinded' and had to live there


Another great entry, Kristin! One more interesting word that might fit into today's vocabulary section is "daltonien(ne)," the French term (adjective or noun) for color-blind. Red-green colorblindness is called "daltonisme" (daltonism in English), and they all come from the name of English physicist John Dalton, who studied and described the condition at the end of the 18th century.

Cynthia White

Kathi ;

Thank you for your wonderful history lesson ! I passed this on to my dear French amie who teaches french here in the States so she can share this with her students ! Also, I find it very interesting for myself because I work in eye surgery and I can tell this to the surgeons ! Bravo to you and Kristin !

Merci encore et amities !


what a great story! Years ago I volunteered in the Washington DC area for an organization called Volunteers for the Visually Handicapped. I assisted an amazing non-voyante woman who had her masters in social work and was a counselor at a drug rehab center. She would read her braille notes to me and I would transcribe them for her (unlike the commentor who could read braille, wow Passante!). I also helped her at home with bills and such. She was very independent, living alone with her black lab named Sunday. I was humbled by her and felt honored to help her. Years later, while working as a liaison between a county and the Disability Services Board, I had to oversee a machine at the library that you could put a sheet of regular text on the glass- like a copy machine- and it would produce sheets braille. It was very cool.


Just come back from seeing a Monet exhibition currently running in town. I know everyone says this but the colours and light that shine from his canvases are truly amazing and a humbling experience for this amateur artist to experience. I was struck ( and had a giggle) by one of the comments on the brochure from one of his critics Charles Bigot who said "from a only a few paces away everything he tries to produce disappears: we see no more than a formless ensemble- a series of crude blotches of unpleasant blues, pinks and ochres." I think perhaps Braille is a litle like this to the sighted ones as we do not ( like Charles Bigot) understand the language but for those who can "read" the pattern of dots must open up a new and marvelous world of meaning and images and colour! What an amazing invention from one so young!
PS today is a heatwave of 42 deg celcius and looking forward to a slight cool southerly later tonight...shovelling snow is a great image!

Christine Dashper

Thanks Kathi for the really interesting story. It was great to find out the background on Louis Braille, and to realise what an amazing mind he had and how much drive he must have had to be teaching at 19!

Thanks Kristin, as ever, for always coming up with new and interesting ways to talk about life. You probably know, but L'Occitane products also have Braille on the packaging.

Hello to Gretel in 42degC heat! Somewhere in the Southern Hemishpere?? Yes summer is here, although today is only 25degC but next week 39!!

all the best Chris

Christine Dashper

I just wanted to add, I love reading Jules' response to FWAD. I love your enthusiasm and support for Kristin, Jules. Very inspiring.


Southerly buster has just come through in a huge flurry and swept my 9 week old maltese puppy off her feet from one end of the deck to the other! Watch out Kristin as I think she may end up at your place...wizard of oz style!!

Eve Robillardrobill

Kristin--What a sweet story! I'd forgotten that he was "non-volant" himself! Now I have to check my carte de Paris & see where that rue is! merci, evie

Eve Robillardrobill

K--J'intende, of course "non-voyant." duh, evie


What a great discover this site and to read the fascinating story of Louis Braille. Merci beaucoups, Kathi. Kristen, I recently purchased "Words in a French Life" and am loving it...trying to improve my weak French language skills. Spent September 2008 in Aix-en-Provence chez Madame Monique Faillard...painting and throroughly enjoying French life! C'etait les plus bons temps!

Marianne Rankin

Thank you for the mini-biography of Louis Braille, which was a refresher course of sorts for me.

Years ago when I taught second grade, I read a longer biography, from a children's book club, to the class. Amazingly, after I had read the whole story, almost every child ordered a personal copy from the book club, and eagerly felt the dots of the Braille alphabet on the back cover.


Thank you both for the wonderful stories and continued inspiration!


I can remember 2 piano tuners I met years ago, one in France and one in England, both completely “non-voyants”, both with an amazing musical talent. I used to know an old lady who had become “malvoyante” (partially sighted) when she was in her forties. She started to learn braille a few years later. She used to say she was 'privileged', because she could remember vividly colours, seasons, birds, waves, patterns... So hard for me to imagine such a life.

Looking at the photo at the top of this newsletter, how could a “non-voyant” have any idea about the various shapes I can 'see' among the shadows on the right handside of the gate?... How could I easily describe them to a blind person?

Thank you Katie for telling us about Louis Braille. His fantastic achievements for the “non-voyants” expanded their restricted life, helped them to acquire knowledge, education, independance... The braille system is still alive today!
I knew about the story of Louis Braille but this article refreshed my memory and made me feel curious... I found this website worthwhile exploring:
There is an interesting article about Anne Sullivan and the role she played in the extraordinary life of the deaf-blind woman, Helen Keller.

By the way, among the famous blind musicians, I have a preference for the romantic voice of the Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli. Only a few extracts here:


and more of Andrea Bocelli here

Dean Showers

Kathi, you story is terrific! And thanks for the food fotos.
dean showers

Margaret Roberts

Thank you for your well written and interesting story on Braille! I never thought about the fact that he was french. Now how about equal time for the hearing impaired and how our American sign language was derived from the french sign language and the importance of Gaulladet.

Alice Halliday

Hi Kathi, our Vietnamese piano tuner is blind. He was a bomb victim of flash bombs used in Vietnam. He is married to a Japanese girl and they now have 3 children.

Would love to hear what out of the way places you might be going to on your trip as I might get down to south of France this year to visit my elderly ex French teacher who lives in Rousillon town.

Just by the by, Kristin, your Mother Jules, is wonderful! She always writes she most championing emails and is your biggest supporter. Who/what is Newforest?

Alice Halliday


VERY interesting. I enjoyed the story!. Larry


I know the L'Occitane products are all packaged with Braille type. Can't think of many others.

Great story and thank you for the pronunciation leçon!

Herm in Phoenix, AZ

Thank you, Kathi, for information on Braille. Je n'avais aucune idée (I had no idea).

Willie Nelson, the country western singer, likes to tell the story about playing cards with blind entertainer Ray Charles. It seems that after Willie kept winning, Ray demanded they turn the lights out!

À bientôt

Herm in Phoenix, AZ

I was emotionally moved by this powerful video!!!!

Kathryn Winslow

Welcome back Newforest! Your perspicacious comments were greatly missed.

A foggy 60 degrees in San Antonio TX...

Elaine Wilson

Kathi, Thanks for your article on Louis Braille. My Mother was "legally blind" from the effects of diabetes and attended the Braille Institute in Los Angeles where she attended classes, painted, and created wonderful sculpture. Viva Braille!!! (a bit of Spanish!!)

Susan A.

Thanks for such an informative and interesting piece. I knew a little about Louis Braille but not the fascinating details of his life and work. It's great to have this knowledge expandec.

mhwebb in NM, USA

I am impressed that Passant learned to transcribe Braille with a mechanical Brailler! When I worked with students with various disabilities at a community college, I had a student whose first language was not English. He took English classes in the morning for which he had a notetaker (an employee that took written notes in class for him). I read her notes to him in the afternoon while he used a mechanical Brailler to transcribe them with his one good hand! I tried to learn Braille at that time but found it challenging. Although I had health problems at that time, including severe pain, I learned not to complain because I saw severely disabled students at school every day.

I also learned that the complete absence of vision is quite rare. Most "blind" people have some bit of vision, such as being able to see tall, fuzzy images walking toward them, or being able to see out of a portion of their eyes. That is why I adopted the habit of wearing bright colors on my top half so that people can see me coming. Among professionals here, the term "blind" is discouraged while "visually impaired" is preferred (or was while I worked in that field).

Thank you, Kristin and Kathi, for the refresher course on Braille. Thank you, Max, for your alertness about the sugar box. Every time I see Braille near elevator buttons or below signs, I wonder how the totally blind know where to "look" for them.

Since I used to have a visual impairment that was corrected by surgery, I want to thank Jules for not writing in all caps. It is actually easier for me to read the mixture of caps and lower case, although I am not sure why. I enjoy her comments and appreciate being able to read them. Thank you.

Kate S

Love the story regarding the Braille. I once helped a blind student down the escalator.. i got in trouble with the teacher. I did not know they were learning to fend for themselves in the mall.. so i grab her arm and said" here we go" and took her down the short flight. As we rode along she said"I'm in trouble now.. but Thanks!!As we stepped off.. the teacher glared at me and took her away. I least she was not still stuck at the top.. scared to death. Think how scary that must be.
I did notice the small dots on a number of items. It makes you think and appreciate your vision. Thanks for the story. Your children really pay attention.

D Dufour  2308 Broadway St. Abbotsford, B.C.  V2T 3G5

Quel merveileux post! Merci Kristen et Kathi!

Ici, il ne fait pas beau. Nous avons de la neige.

Me, I'm feeding the birds and making soup. And wishing for rain.

Dorothy, in Abbotsford B.C.

Amanda Frost

A very interesting issue with interesting posts.

May I kindly suggest that you get a proofreader. There are a number of misspellings (privilege, occurred) and some odd use of punctuation.

Debbie Ambrous

I'm glad to see there's no shortage of comments on this educational and enjoyable story. Thank you!
Coconut Grove, Florida
Friday night Pizza and a movie for me.

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