What does reading do for us? Why is there such an emphasis on reading? Reading envelopes us in words, ideas, mental images that build our intelligence and imagination. It is the foundation for knowledge and education. It opens up all possibilities and hope. Math, science, art are all propped up on the foundation of reading.
So, what happens if you can’t see? In this high-tech world, does it matter? Charlotte Cushman addresses this very issue in her article Celebrate Braille Literacy Month. Cushman’s answer is quite telling and obvious. “Is it important for a sighted child to learn to read because audible books exist?” Point taken. Everyone deserves an opportunity to read the words for themselves. This allows their minds to wrestle with the tone, voice, and emotions of the characters, which helps build empathy as well as imagination.
January is Braille Literacy Month. It is in honor of Louis Braille who was born January 4th, 1809. Who was Louis Braille? He was one of four children of Monique Braille and Simon-Rene Braille. His father was a saddler and Louis would play in his father’s workshop often. When he was three, he had an accident. He was playing with an awl trying to put it through a piece of leather and the tool slipped and hit him in one eye. They couldn’t save the eye. Within a few years, an infection in that eye spread to the good eye and Louis was completely blind. He was five years old.
Braille was lucky enough to attend one of the first schools for the blind in Paris. In 1821, Braille learned of a French Army Captain who had developed a system of communication called night writing. It was done on thick paper with dots and dashes. It allowed soldiers to feel the paper to know the message-no light necessary.
Braille learned the system but felt it was too complicated. By 15, he condensed Barbier’s 12 dots into 6 and found a way to use a 6-dot cell in a fingertip size area. By 1829, he published his system which included symbols for mathematics and music. Braille was offered a professorship where he taught history, geometry, and algebra. He was an accomplished musician as well. He died young at 43 years of age in 1852.
The system wasn’t accepted by academia at first and the blind were forced to learn it on their own. It was a few years after his death that his system was accepted by the Royal Academy and the French government. He became a national hero. (They even exhumed his body to move it to have it buried in the Pantheon in Paris with other national heroes.)
Learning sign language is encouraged at most schools, but it is rare to find a public school encouraging students to learn braille unless they are blind. DiscoverBooks.com invites you this month to discover a new skill, a new idea, or even a new way to serve. Discover more about Louis Braille’s story or decide to learn to read Braille.
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