Braille Monitor                                                                                 May 2006


U.S. House Passes Braille Commemorative Coin Bill

From the Editor: On February 28, 2006, the House of Representatives voted to pass H.R. 2872, which, if passed by the U.S. Senate as well, will create a silver dollar in 2009 to commemorate the two-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille. Assuming that all the coins are sold, $4 million will be generated for use as matching funds to finance the National Federation of the Blind’s programs to increase Braille literacy across the country. The Congressional Record published the remarks of those who rose to speak about the proposed legislation before the vote. Congressman Robert Ney of Ohio and Congressman Benjamin Cardin of Maryland were the lead sponsors of the bill. Mr. Cardin had to leave the session before he could make his remarks in person, but he inserted them into the official record of the proceedings. What follows are the remarks of Mr. Ney, and Mr. Cardin as well as those of Congressman Michael Oxley, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, which has jurisdiction over banking matters. Here are the official remarks before the vote on H.R. 2872, which seem unusually shrewd and to the point:

Mr. Ney: Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Congressman Robert Ney

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of H.R. 2872, a bill designed to advance a nationwide Braille literacy campaign by honoring Louis Braille with a commemorative coin to be issued in 2009, the bicentennial year of his birth. Louis Braille created the code of raised dots for reading and writing that bears his name and brings literacy, independence, and productivity to the blind.

Born in 1809, Louis Braille became blind due to an accident in his father's workshop. By believing in the capacity of the blind to learn, Braille demonstrated an understanding of blindness that was extraordinarily enlightened and positive for the times in which he lived. Blind people today would be far less likely to achieve the goals of independence and productive living without the positive contributions Louis Braille made and the example he set throughout his life. Today blind members of society are teachers, doctors, lawyers, scientists, mathematicians, and much, much more because of Louis Braille.

A means of achieving literacy is vital for everyone, including, of course, people who are blind. Therefore effective use of Braille is one of the most essential skills for blind people to achieve success. Research shows that more than 90 percent of employed persons who are blind use Braille. Effective use of Braille is as important to the blind as independent mobility, knowledge in the use of adaptive technology, and the core belief that equality, opportunity, and security are truly possible for all people who are blind.

The Louis Braille commemorative coin will feature representation of the image of Louis Braille on one side and will include the word for Braille in actual Braille code on the other side. The inclusion of Braille code on the commemorative coin is a significant and historic aspect of this bill. In addition, all sales of the Braille commemorative coin will include a surcharge of $10 per coin, which will be distributed to the National Federation of the Blind to promote Braille literacy. As a condition of receiving the proceeds from this surcharge, the National Federation of the Blind will be subject to annual audits to ensure that these proceeds, of course, are being spent for the authorized purpose and will be required to raise matching funds from private sources.

If all the coins authorized under this bill are sold, the surcharges could generate up to $4 million plus the matching $4 million that the National Federation of the Blind would be required to raise privately. That is potentially $8 million to promote Braille literacy for all people in the country who are in need of Braille literacy. The nation's blind would greatly benefit by this investment in Braille literacy.
The National Federation of the Blind has committed to raising their share of these funds and promoting Braille literacy with the proceeds. Based on our work with the NFB in the past, I know they are up to this task. I worked very closely with the NFB on the Help America Vote Act, Mr. Hoyer and I both did, and Senators Dodd and Bond and McConnell in the Senate, in order to ensure that voting booths were equipped to allow the blind to vote independently without outside assistance. Their grassroots advocacy and unyielding support on that bill helped that dream become a reality for the nation's blind.

Again with this bill the National Federation of the Blind put their grassroots network into action to build overwhelming support for this commemorative coin. I'm confident this same grassroots network will raise the matching funds required and effectively promote Braille literacy on a nationwide basis with the proceeds from this coin's surcharge.

The National Federation of the Blind currently fosters Braille literacy in a number of ways: from mentoring programs, in which experienced Braille readers as volunteers teach and encourage novices, to publishing instructions for schoolchildren, to research in effective methods of teaching and learning Braille, to one-on-one Braille instruction in residential training centers. Literacy in Braille is emphasized throughout its programs and services as an essential tool for blind persons to participate successfully in modern society.
The Federation emphatically links competence in the basic skills of blindness, like Braille, to its broader understanding of blindness, a condition feared above most others by society. When blindness occurs, the Federation seeks, through its nationwide membership, to reach individuals, children or adults who experience sight loss, to convey the message that while blindness is not sought by anyone, obviously, everyone can successfully handle lack of sight with proper training and alternative skills, combined with a can-do attitude.
But even with that effort, only about 10 percent of blind children are taught Braille. Issuance of the Louis Braille commemorative coin can aid that effort, forming a springboard for a nationwide Braille literacy campaign drawing all these strands together and focusing the joint energy of thousands of volunteers powered by a big idea, resulting in high-profile attention to the literacy crisis amongst the blind while helping this broad volunteer corps to attract social attention to the positive thrust of the Federation.

The story of Braille as a literacy tool and the story of the Federation in emphasizing participation are parallel. Given the proper tools, we humans can overcome apparently insurmountable obstacles and achieve great things. Louis Braille, the man, did so. Hundreds of thousands of blind Americans do so every day. Hundreds of thousands of blind Americans could do so much more if they had the tool of literacy easily at hand and the can-do attitude to accompany it. Honoring Louis Braille and promoting literacy for the blind will have lasting value for our society.

I want to thank Congressman Ben Cardin for his cosponsorship of this important bill, and I want to thank over three hundred-some of our colleagues who have actually signed on to the bill, and I appreciate the gentleman from Massachusetts [Representative Barnie Frank, who spoke on the floor in place of Ben Cardin] being here today on this bill and all the input and work he has done on it. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation to create the Louis Braille commemorative coin and help advance Braille literacy nationwide.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

Representative Benjamin Cardin
Representative Benjamin Cardin was unable to deliver his remarks in person, but he inserted them in the Congressional Record.

Mr. Cardin: Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of H.R. 2872, and I want to thank my colleague, the gentleman from Ohio, for his leadership on this bill. It has been a pleasure to work with him in advancing this important legislation. I also want to extend my appreciation to Chairman Oxley and Ranking Member Frank, of the Financial Services Committee, for their support.

This bipartisan bill celebrates the achievements of Louis Braille, who created a system of reading and writing for the blind that has gained widespread acceptance since his death more than one hundred fifty years ago. To mark the two hundredth anniversary of his birth in 1809, this bill authorizes the minting of $1 coins bearing the image of Braille himself and emphasizing Braille literacy.

I want to particularly express my deep appreciation to the National Federation of the Blind for their vital advocacy for more than 1.3 million blind persons in the United States. Since its inception in 1940, the National Federation of the Blind has worked tirelessly to battle discrimination, increase public awareness, and develop and support technological advances.

The NFB also distributes the Braille Monitor, a monthly news publication, as well as online resources and a quarterly publication for the parents of blind children. With more than 50,000 members and affiliates in every state across America, NFB has led the way in demonstrating its ability to serve the interests of the blind population. This bill holds special significance for me, as the National Federation of the Blind is headquartered in my congressional district, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Dr. Marc Maurer, who has served as president of the National Federation of the Blind for twenty years, has shown exemplary leadership of this organization, as has the NFB's first vice president, Joyce Scanlan, an active member since 1970. Sharon Maneki, president of the Maryland Chapter, has been instrumental in advancing the cause of blind persons throughout our state. I would also like to thank Jesse Hartle of the NFB for his hard work on behalf of the organization. I am pleased to note that H.R. 2872 is cosponsored by the entire Maryland delegation, as well as by more than three hundred members of the House.

The NFB's mission statement declares that “The real problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight but the misunderstanding and lack of information which exist.” As part of this mission the NFB has been campaigning to increase awareness of the Braille system of communication. The Braille code became dominant in the United States during the twentieth century, and it served as a gateway to education for the blind. In recent years the Braille code has been in declining use among the blind population. It is currently taught to only about 10 percent of blind students and is usually not taught at all to the elderly.

The NFB holds as one of its major goals the reintroduction of Braille into education for the blind. Braille readers can read up to four hundred words per minute, comparable to the speed of print readers. Braille is also essential for note-taking, mathematics, and the study of foreign languages. Moreover, the computerization of Braille allows users to write much more rapidly than in the past. Commemorating the contributions of Louis Braille is a worthy goal. Increasing awareness of Braille and broadening opportunities for use as an educational tool are two other pivotal goals that this legislation will help achieve.

I want to thank my colleagues for their resounding support of H.R. 2872 and urge the House to help further the legacy of Louis Braille by voting for this bill.

Congressman Michael Oxley

Mr. Oxley: Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of H.R. 2872, the Louis Braille Bicentennial--Braille Literacy Commemorative Coin Act, introduced by my colleague, the gentleman from Ohio, Mr. Ney.

Mr. Speaker, I confess I learned something reading this legislation. All of us know some blind people, and all of us, of course, see Braille writing in elevators and elsewhere as we move through our daily lives.

But sitting down and reading the story of the courage and the intelligence it must have taken for a young blind man two hundred years ago in France to fight for an education for himself when many sighted kids his age weren't getting even a high school education is remarkable. And doing it when there were very few books printed for the blind--those only with giant embossed letters--must have been excruciatingly slow and taken a huge amount of self-discipline. To have discovered and modified a method of communication used by the Army into something that could easily be reproduced and read--and more importantly written by the blind, which was not really the case with those giant embossed letters--was a truly revolutionary breakthrough.
As a result, Mr. Speaker, long before the amazing technology that we all take for granted, the blind who were taught to read and write Braille were able to live normal lives and participate fully in society. Still, and this is something else I learned, despite all the independence that reading and writing Braille confers on the blind, only about 10 percent of blind children are taught Braille. Thus I support the provision in the bill that devotes income from surcharges on the sale of these coins to a Braille literacy program operated by the National Federation of the Blind. And I think it is important to note that the silver dollar coins that would be produced under this bill would all bear, on their reverse, a full-sized Braille abbreviation for Braille--the raised dots that form the letters BRL.

Mr. Speaker, this commemorative coin program, like all those that pass through the Financial Services Committee, proceeds at no cost to the taxpayer and requires the beneficiary, in this case the NFB, to raise from private sources an amount equal to or greater than the amount of surcharge income that will be received, and also demands strict post-disbursement audit process to ensure that the funds are used for their statutorily intended purpose. In this case I have no doubt that the NFB can raise the matching funds and will use the income to really very effectively raise the profile of Braille literacy.

And so, Mr. Speaker, noting that 302 members of the House have cosponsored this bill, I urge its immediate passage.

There you have the case for the Louis Braille commemorative coin. It now remains to persuade another thirty members of the U.S. Senate to cosponsor S. 2321, the companion bill to H.R. 2872. When that is accomplished, we can move forward to raise the matching funds to be ready for an intensive effort to increase Braille literacy beginning in 2009. Could we think of a more fitting way to celebrate the life and work of the man who gave every blind person the potential for literacy?