Musée Valentin Haüy

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South-west Paris Free
The tiny Musée Valentin Haüy is devoted to the history of braille, a story intimately connected with the French Enlightenment just before the Revolution. Valentin Haüy, whose statue you will see as you pass the gates of the Institut National des Jeunes Aveugles, was an 18th-century linguist and philanthropist. He established France's first school for the blind, and it was here that Louis Braille became a star pupil some 34 years later.

The one-room museum is hidden at the end of the nondescript corridors of the Valentin Haüy Association, which offers educational services to the blind. The door opens on to glass-fronted cases of exhibits with, in the centre, a huge braille globe. You can explore on your own with the aid of French, English or braille explanatory texts, or allow the curator, Noêle Roy, to show you round. She will give a tour in English if preferred.

The first exhibit is a shocking print, depicting the fairground freak show that inspired Valentin Haüy to devote his life to educating not only the blind, but also the backward public who came to laugh at the likes of this blind orchestra forced to perform in dunce's hats. He wanted to prove that blind people had as great a capacity for learning and feeling as anyone else - in short, that they were human beings.

Next begins the tactile tour, with a chance to touch books printed by Haüy in embossed letters. After the Revolution, another philanthopist, Charles Barbier, tried to develop a universal writing system using raised dots, but it was difficult to read. Braille, the son of a harness-maker, arrived at the school as a ten-year-old in 1819, having been blind since the age of four after he accidentally stabbed himself in the eye with a stitching awl.

He spent his years at the school developing and perfecting his six-dot fingertip system. He was only 16 when he completed it, and went on to teach, write a treatise on arithmetic, and play the organ in two Paris churches. He died from tuberculosis at the age of 43. If it hadn't been for his childhood accident, this genius may never have had access to the education that led to his gift to humanity and his admission to the Pantheon.
Venue name: Musée Valentin Haüy
Address: 5 rue Duroc

Opening hours: times vary
Price: free
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