World Braille Day is celebrated every year on January 4th to commemorate Louis Braille, the French man who invented the braille system. While World Braille Day is not an official holiday, it is an important day to recognize the important contributions Louis Braille made and to raise awareness about the rising braille literacy crisis.
Who was Louis Braille?
Louis Braille was a French educator born on January 4, 1809. Louis was tragically blinded in both eyes from an accident at a very young age. While in school, Louis began developing a system that could allow blind people to read and write. At age 15, he presented his new tactile method, now known as the braille system. In his adulthood, Louis continued to refine his system and worked as a professor at France’s Royal Institute for Blind Youth. Even though his method wasn’t extensively used until many years after his death in 1852, it is now heralded as a revolutionary invention.
What is Braille?
Braille is a system of bumps and indentations on a surface to represent letters that can be recognized by touch. Braille characters are coded into small rectangular blocks, known as cells, using raised dots arranged in a 3×2 pattern. Each cell represents a letter or number. Special patterns are also used for capitalization, contractions, and punctuation.
Louis Braille’s first system was based on the French alphabet with accented letters. Later, the system was modified according to the order of the print alphabet, then again rearranged to improve writing efficiency. Today, there is a braille code for every foreign language, mathematics, music, and even computers.
Raising Awareness about Braille Literacy
According to the National Federation of the Blind, less than 10% of legally blind people are braille readers and only 10% of blind children are learning braille. The effects of this mean that over 70% of blind adults are unemployed and almost 50% of blind high school students drop out of school. One of the factors contributing to such a low braille literacy rate is the lack of teachers who are qualified to mentor or teach braille. There is a sharp decline in the number of teachers graduating to work with blind students and school budget constraints limit the number of special education teachers that can be hired.
A number of organizations are trying to reverse this trend by expanding outreach programs, urging the use of braille in new technology, researching new methods of teaching and learning braille, and making braille resources more available online. There is even a push to require all special education teachers to be nationally certified in braille. As always though, the easiest way to help is to simply spread awareness and educate those around you.
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