Association Valentin Haüy at the service of the blind and visually impaired


May 21, 2022

The Valentin Haüy Association at the service of the blind and visually impaired, created in 1889 by Maurice de La Sizeranne and recognized as a public utility in 1891, is an association whose vocation is to help the blind and visually impaired to come out of their isolation. , and provide them with the means to lead a normal life. The action of the association relies on nearly 3,300 volunteers, including around 2,900 in the regions, and 474 employees, sighted or visually impaired. (Haüy is pronounced "A-U-I").


Until the 18th century

Until the 18th century, the history of the blind was intertwined with that of all the other excluded people. The less fortunate beg or live on their own. It was the publication by Diderot, on June 9, 1749, of his Letter on the Blind for the Use of Those Who See, a work evoking in particular the blind mathematician Nicholas Saunderson, which would change the image of the blind in society. And it was only 36 years later, in 1785, that the first school for the blind was founded by Valentin Haüy (1745-1822).

The first school for the blind

Valentin Haüy, man of letters practicing in addition to Latin, Greek and Hebrew, a dozen living languages, is first interested in curiosity in the fate of blind people and, following Diderot, in their "psychology" . In 1771, shocked at the sight of a sad spectacle featuring blind people at the Saint-Ovide Fair, he became passionate about the education of the blind and aimed to teach them to read. With this intention, he had special relief and mobile characters made and, in 1784, successfully undertook to instruct a young blind man. At the request of the Philanthropic Society, he takes care of other young blind people, boys and girls. The Institution for Blind Children was born. Nationalized in 1791 by the Constituent Assembly, then attached in 1800 to the Quinze-Vingts hospice, the school regained its autonomy under the Restoration, in 1815, under the name of Royal Institution for young blind people. It was in this institution that Louis Braille (1809-1852), then a 10-year-old blind boy, entered as a student in 1819 and learned to read there using the characters in relief imagined by Valentin Haüy. In 1821, Charles Barbier de La Serre, a former artillery captain with a passion for rapid writing, came to present his nocturnal writing system to the Royal Institution for young blind people. Louis Braille is passionate about the ingenious system of dots in relief invented by Barbier, but which has the disadvantage of transcribing only sounds, eliminating spelling, grammar, punctuation and ignoring numbers. Undertaking his own research on this basis, Louis Braille then developed, at the age of 16, the writing system that bears his name: braille. This will be the subject of a first publication in 1829: Process for writing lyrics, music and plainsong by means of dots for the use of the blind and arranged for them. Appointed professor in 1828, Louis Braille continued his work and research within the Institution, where he died at the age of 43, in 1852.

Creation of the Valentin Haüy Association

Some fifteen years later, the Institution, installed since 1844 in the building it still occupies today on Boulevard des Invalides in Paris, and which in 1848 became the National Institute for Young Blind People (INJA), welcomed a new student, Maurice de La Sizeranne (1857-1924), who became blind by accident at the age of 9. At the end of his studies, in 1878, he was appointed professor of music at the INJA. Fascinated by the development of the braille system, and in particular by the creation of a new abbreviative method of braille writing, he gave up all professional activity.