Braille Monitor                                                    June 2009

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A Thank You to Louis Braille

by David Hyde

From the Editor: David Hyde is a longtime leader of the NFB. He now lives and works in Wisconsin. He is of course a committed Braille user.

Dear Louis,

David HydeI'm writing to congratulate you on 200 years of success. I know you won't ever read this, being dead and all, but I think it is important that someone let you know officially how your little project conducted at the school for the blind in France is doing. I believe that we can call your system of raised dots to represent letters and numbers for the blind an unqualified success. We are particularly grateful that you granted the request of an English friend to invent the letter W, even though it wasn't part of the French language in your day.

Your system is now used in most of the civilized world with adaptations to meet local needs. We have also appropriated some of the available dot combinations that you didn't use, to provide contractions for groups of letters, as well as for math and science. The music code you already know about since you invented it as well as the literary code.

Your little invention is responsible for most of the advances blind people have made in the last 200 years. Being able to read independently has opened the world for those of us who don't read print. It has allowed us to dream about new jobs, lives, and opportunities and then to go out and achieve them. We read to our children at night, work at our jobs by day, create and edit our work, and even make works of art because of you. Of course the way we store and display written Braille (we named the code after you) has really changed a lot in the last few years. Some of us have been able to amass respectable libraries and still have room to live in our homes, something we could only dream of when I was a child.

We who are blind see you as the father of literacy and the grandfather of our freedom from ignorance and dependence upon the whims of our sighted friends and families. To this end we in the United States are honoring your 200th birthday with a commemorative silver dollar, the benefits from the sale of which will go to promote Braille literacy. Surprisingly, only a small minority of blind children today are taught Braille in school, which means that many of them will lack the skills to get jobs when they grow up. Our recognition of your contribution will help change this and extend your vision of literacy for the blind to a new generation.

Finally, Louis, it has been a very successful 200 years since you were born, and Braille has been the method we have used to make it so. It has brought us information and trivia, timeless knowledge and ephemera. Through it we have expressed our laughter and our sorrow and the whole range of human experience. Because of you our lives are full. On behalf of all blind people, thank you.

With deep gratitude,
David Hyde, for all Braille Readers

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