Braille and the ‘Braille Crisis’

What is Braille?  Braille is a system of  6 raised dots, arranged in combinations in two vertical lines. There are 63 combinations. The space they occupy is called the Braille cell.  The positions of the dots within the cell are identified by a specific number;  top left is #1, middle left is #2,  bottom left is #3, top right is #4, middle right is #5, and bottom right is #6. Louis Braille was born near Paris in 1809.  His father was a shoemaker.  One day,  at age four,  while Louis was playing with a tool for punching holes in leather (awl), he ended up piercing  his eye.  The other eye soon became infected, and he lost all his vision.  He was sent to a school for the blind in Paris.   In 1821, a man named Charles Barbier visited the school.  He showed the kids his communication system called, ‘Nightwriting’. It had been developed for soldiers to pass information to one another at night.  While it failed for the French military, it did give Louis the idea to develop its use for the blind in 1827.  He expanded it to include codes for math(Nemeth) and music notation.  Braille would not become a big hit in his lifetime.  In fact, it was ‘banned’ from use with blind kids for a while.  Naturally, kids enjoyed the idea of reading the contraband books, so it did not die.  In 1868, Dr. Thomas Armitage led a group of four blind men to form the ‘British Society For the Embossed Literature of the Blind’.   Louis Braille died of tuberculosis in 1852 at age 43.  In 1952 his body was moved to the Pantheon site where National heroes of France are honoured.  One little know fellow is William Moon. He was born in Kent, England in 1818.  He developed the ‘Moon’ system of reading in 1845.  It uses raised curves and lines with 14 characters.  Moon  is easier to use, and is much easier to learn by people who loose sight later in life, particularly if they are elderly.  William Moon died in 1894. His daughter continued his work and founded ‘Moonworks’.  For more on Moon, visit…. Braille has been around for  over 180 years.  It has provide blind children with the opportunity to become literate.   Today, it is estimated that fewer than 20% of Blind adults use Braille.  The push and allure of technology has created an audio- dependent generation of Blind people.  I sit here, using a computer that is ‘talking’ to me, courtesy of screen-reading software allowing me to  write a blog on Braille.  Somehow,   I find the irony of that, to be both amusing and alarming.  I had the opportunity to learn the alphabet, grammar, syntax, phonics, use of punctuation, composition etc. as a sighted child.  When I began to loose my vision, I made it my business to learn Braille.  The emphasis of the type of ‘mainstream’ education Blind children recieve today, is not on Braille literacy.  We now have, what is called by many, a  “Braille Crisis” . In fact, legislation called the Braille Bill was passed in Minnesota in 1987.  Groups such as the National Federation of the Blind, have advocated vigourously for similar bills to be passed.  There are many more states that have endorsed Braille bills.  These protect the important need/right of  blind children to become literate.  Audio-heavy education does not foster literate children who can move ahead successfully in life.  


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