January 4: Louis Braille’s birthday
What did you do to celebrate Louis Braille’s 204th birthday?
I went with another blind adult to celebrate with two elementary students and a middle school student all of whom are learning Braille. The event was set up by a teacher of blind and visually impaired students I know who sees the importance of exposing students to adult role models who daily use the skills she’s teaching. We read, talked in classrooms, had lunch and played games. The kindergarteners asked me two questions I’d not fielded before: “How do you use a smartboard?” and “How do you see your fish?” “I can’t.” and “I don’t”. are the short answers, but I went on to talk about asking someone to read aloud what is written on the board (blackboard in my school days, smartboard now) Then I talked about how fish or the turtle I had in kindergarten weren’t very good pets for blind folks and how much enjoyment I’d gotten out of my parakeet I got in sixth grade and taught to talk.
Unfortunately, many blind or visually impaired students don’t learn Braille. It’s expensive for the school system to hire a Braille teacher, their vision isn’t that “bad”, everything can be done by talking computer (just plain wrong) and Braille takes time and practice to learn.

Louis Braille’s birthday certainly deserves celebrating. In the early 1800’s he developed a system that enabled people who are blind to be independent readers. Many seniors whose vision deteriorates to where they can’t read even large print do not learn Braille. It’s hard to learn especially if you have neuropathy, but it is useful for making notes, jotting down phone numbers, playing cards, etc. Tape recorders and talking computers can do a lot, but Mr. Braille’s invention will always be useful to those of us who have learned the code. It’s amazing that six dots can represent mathematical symbols, musical notes, Chinese characters, and English letters. There are not Braille equivalents of emoticons that I know of, but that may come someday.
If you’re not a Braille reader and don’t happen to know anyone who is, you can still celebrate the day. Run your fingers over the Braille numbers in the next elevator you’re on and think about how you’d know what button to push if you couldn’t see. Next time you’re in a big hotel, imagine jumping off the elevator on a random floor and trying your key card in the third door down a number of times until you get the right floor. And we can all subscribe to National Braille Press’s new blog started on Louis’s birthday: http://nationalbraillepress.wordpress.com/
Next time I get to read Scripture at church I will thank God for Louis Braille’s birth and for his blindness which prompted his invention. If that hadn’t happened, I’d have to memorize the readings in order to declaim them and with this aging brain that would be a lot of work.

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