HAPPY JANUARY 4th! Today represents the birth of one of the most amazing and monumental inventors in modern history. The invention of this individual single-handedly has made a positive difference in the lives of tens of millions of people around the world.
You are probably wondering, who is this guy talking about? I can’t think of anybody famous born this day. Whether you know who I’m talking about or not, today really is an important, life-changing day for many people.
On January 4, 1809 in France, Louis Braille was born. While you may not know Mr. Braille’s birthday, you might be aware of the system he developed that enables blind people throughout the world to read and write as effectively as sighted people. Unfortunately, there are many people who seem not to have ever heard of the reading and writing system available to blind people, a system called Braille, named after its inventor. Let me tell you about this wonderful invention.
As a young child, Louis Braille became blind due to an injury. Because of his blindness, society had little expectation that Louis Braille would amount to anything. In 1824, however, desirous of a way to read and write so that he could be like others in society, Louis Braille set out to create his own reading and writing system. Louis Braille created an alphabet which is composed of six dots that can be grouped in various combinations to form letters and numbers. The characters in the Braille system do not look at all like print letters and numbers. Mr. Braille designed his system to be touched rather than seen.
It took several years for this new, revolutionary communication system to catch on. In fact, it wasn’t even used in the French school attended by Mr. Braille and where he invented his system until a year after his passing. As with most things relating to blindness and blind people, expectations from the sighted community were very low. So, teaching blind people to read and write even with a system designed for them was not emphasized in the limited education that blind people received. However, the indomitable spirit of blind individuals who wanted to learn eventually overcame societal attitudes and now Braille is recognized as the universal method blind people can use to read and write words, sentences, articles and even books.
Today, because of Braille, blind people worldwide have a greater opportunity to receive an education and become productive members of society. This is due in large part to the fact that a reading and writing language is available so that we can communicate just as do other people.
Technology has greatly improved Braille production and Braille distribution. Unfortunately, societal attitudes about blindness and the blind have not made the same leaps and advances as technology has brought to Braille. Today, many “experts in the field of education for the blind” choose not to emphasize Braille, but rather they encourage blind students to listen to books and written material read by others or using synthesized speech. By deemphasizing Braille, today’s blind students do not gain the same reading and writing skills available to their sighted colleagues. This continues to keep blind workers at a disadvantage and it continues to help drive the self-fulfilling prophecy that blind people are not equal to nor as competent as people who can see. Anecdotal evidence shows, however, that blind individuals who do learn to read and write with Braille are more confident and work harder to gain their rightful place in the world.
Access, inclusion and equality are rights that must be available to all. Blind people should have the same right to learn to read and write as sighted persons. Louis Braille opened the door for quality education with his invention of the Braille alphabet. In December 2018, just over 200 years since Louis Braille’s birth, the United Nations officially recognized January 4th as World Braille Day, announcing to the world that people who are blind make meaningful contributions to society through their unique talents and abilities. What an incredible time to be blind! So, rather than letting January 4th go by as just another day, a day where many of us may already be leaving our New Year’s resolutions behind, we should rejoice and celebrate the invention of Braille. We should renew our efforts to ensure that every blind person in the United States and throughout the world has full access to Braille and the wonderful doors to knowledge that are opened through reading and writing with it. Technology has made Braille production inexpensive and, through the personal Braille display, easily transportable. Braille is no harder to learn than print. We should all support the rights of every blind person to gain a good education including learning to read and write Braille.
The Do More Foundation supports the right for complete and full access to the world by blind people. The Do More foundation, http://domore.io, encourages everyone to remember Louis Braille today, his birthday and World Braille Day, and to support the access that Mr. Braille sought for himself and the rest of the world’s blind population. You can support people who use Braille with a donation to the Do More Foundation at https://bit.ly/2SBX38v