FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release Date: 
Thursday, July 27, 2006
Category: 
John G. Paré Jr.
Director of Public Relations
National Federation of the Blind
(410) 659-9314, extension 2371
(410) 913-3912 (Cell)

President Signs Coin Bill Honoring Legacy of Louis Braille

National Federation of the Blind Hails Passage of Bill to Help Fund Braille Literacy Campaign

Washington, DC (July 27, 2006): Today President George W. Bush signed into law the Louis Braille Bicentennial--Braille Literacy Commemorative Coin Act, introduced by Representative Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), Housing and Community Opportunity Subcommittee Chairman. H.R. 2872 commemorates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille, who created the raised-dot system of reading and writing for the blind that bears his name. It calls for the Secretary of the Treasury to issue up to 400,000 silver-dollar coins commemorating this bicentennial anniversary. The bill is part of a larger campaign initiated by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) to encourage Braille literacy among blind youth.

Rep. Ney said: “Given the proper tools, humans can overcome apparently insurmountable obstacles and achieve great things. Louis Braille did just that and hundreds of thousands of blind Americans do so every day. Honoring Louis Braille and promoting literacy for the blind will have lasting value for our society and I am very pleased that the President signed this bill, which will help achieve both of these important goals.”

A definite correlation exists between Braille literacy and employment rates among the blind, proving that Braille literacy is a vital pathway to success. Over 80% of employed blind or visually impaired adults report using Braille every day, but the number of blind or visually impaired students learning Braille has been decreasing. Today, only 10% of blind or visually impaired students learn to read and write Braille.

Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the NFB, said: “Louis Braille recognized long ago that the fact that a person is blind does not mean he or she must be limited in life. He understood that providing the blind with practical, innovative solutions was key to their independence. This positive attitude towards blindness reflects the Federation’s philosophy as well. The NFB applauds the signing of this bill, which will ultimately result in an increase in Braille literacy as a result of the programs funded by the surcharge proceeds.”

Under the new legislation a $10 surcharge will be added to each coin. Money from coin sales goes to the NFB, which will then match the proceeds dollar for dollar through other fundraising activities. In addition to projects submitted by NFB affiliates, the NFB will invite other organizations serving the blind to submit Braille literacy projects to its planning committee for possible funding. For example, the money will support NFB-approved Braille literacy initiatives, such as the NFB’s Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. By offering special recognition and cash prizes for the number of pages read, this national Braille-reading competition encourages students from kindergarten through twelfth grade to read books in their free time. With practice in reading Braille, young people improve their reading skills and develop a deep fondness for reading. As a result blind youth are better equipped for future successes in all areas of their lives.

Hannah Weatherd, age 13, of Saratoga, Wyoming, who won this year’s competition and can read Braille faster than most people can speak, says the program has dramatically improved her Braille-reading skills: “The more I read, the faster I get. I learn a lot about topics I didn’t know much about before. The more I read, the more I learn. This will help me to become a teacher someday. Braille has definitely made a positive difference in my life.”

The NFB fosters Braille literacy by offering mentoring programs in which experienced Braille readers teach and encourage beginners. NFB also offers education for children, research in effective methods for teaching and learning Braille, and formal instruction in its residential training centers. The Federation emphasizes Braille literacy throughout its programs and services.

Louis Braille, born in 1809 in France, was blinded as a young child during an accident in his father’s workshop. His thirst for knowledge and love of reading fostered his determination to create an efficient reading system that could be inexpensively reproduced in book form. The resulting Braille reading method used different formations of six distinct raised dots to denote different letters. Because of Louis Braille’s contributions, Braille readers today can read up to 400 words per minute, or more, comparable to the reading rates of most sighted people.

The coins, which go on sale in 2009, will emphasize Braille literacy by featuring Louis Braille’s image and raised dots that spell out “Brl” – the Braille contraction for the word “Braille.” This will be the first coin ever minted by the United States Treasury with a Braille symbol. To learn more about the Louis Braille commemorative coin, Braille literacy campaigns, or for general information, contact the NFB at (410) 659-9314, or visit www.nfb.org.