[nfb-talk] Fw: [vipnews] Why Braille is brilliant

Sherri flmom2006 at gmail.com
Sun Jan 4 04:04:26 UTC 2009

A very good article from across the pond. *smile.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: <editor at vipnews.org.uk>
To: <vipnews at googlegroups.com>
Sent: Friday, January 02, 2009 7:40 AM
Subject: [vipnews] Why Braille is brilliant

> Why Braille is brilliant
> by David Blunkett
> BBC News Magazine
> Page last updated at 10:35 GMT, Friday, 2 January 2009
> Few inventions have been as simple yet liberating as Braille. To mark the 
> 200th birthday of its
> inventor Louis Braille, former British home secretary David Blunkett 
> explains how it shaped his life
> by providing him from an early age with a window on the world.
> Picture a little boy of four. He arrives at school - boarding school - for 
> the first time. Worried,
> sometimes even frightened, but determined not to cry.
> Picture then a little boy with a contraption in front of him on his desk 
> the following morning. A
> stylus (to him, a pin with a wooden knob on the top) in which he's 
> expected not only to press
> downwards to make what he considers to be a "hole" in thick paper, but the 
> daunting prospect of
> being told that he's going to operate from right to left.
> How Braille works
> Louis Braille became blind aged three. In 1821 he started to devise the 
> Braille system to help
> people with visual impairments to read and write.
> That little four-year-old was, of course, me. And yes, I was expected, 
> along with all my fellow
> pupils, to use an old-fashioned Braille writing frame which had the 
> six-dot system invented by Louis
> Braille, born on 4 January 1809, to produce the alphabet and much more.
> The reason why it was necessary to write from right to left was that, in 
> those days, without the
> sophistication firstly of mechanical and then of electronic Braille 
> production, the dots had to be
> pressed downwards and, when turned over, would provide a mirror image.
> It was therefore not only necessary to write from right to left, but also 
> to reverse the actual
> letters so that with the exception of letters like A and C, other parts of 
> the alphabet had to be
> reversed. D had to be written as an F. In Braille, this is exactly the 
> mirror image - and therefore
> came out on the opposite side exactly as you'd read it left to right.
> If all this sounds complicated, it damn well was!
> CAPTION: To read Braille without being able to see you need to develop 
> sensitive finger ends
> Thankfully, new systems were developed as I went through the education 
> system which allowed the
> production to be bottom-up (with the dots punctured upwards from left to 
> right, immediately readable
> by the user).
> Despite all its difficulties in those early days, this system was 
> nevertheless a liberator for me
> and hundreds of thousands of blind men and women like me.
> Invented by Louis Braille at the age of 15, the idea came from a soldier 
> who had served in the
> Napoleonic army in Poland and had attempted to devise a system that could, 
> with night-time
> manoeuvres, allow messages to be sent and instructions to be passed from 
> hand to hand.
> It didn't work, because the system was too complex and the soldiers didn't 
> get it. Not surprisingly,
> because to read Braille without being able to see you need to develop 
> sensitive finger ends.
> Finger ends which, unlike mine, need to be protected from burns developed 
> whilst cooking, or rough
> handling of gardening implements and the like. My fingers have developed 
> what in a sighted person
> might be called "cataracts", but I still plough on.
> Art of oratory
> All those years ago, Louis Braille decided that it was crucial that he 
> should be able to read and,
> above all, to be able to write down his thoughts.
> Two hundred years later, when chairing a meeting it is vital that I have 
> an agenda on my own that I
> can refer to without reference to someone else. It is vital that I have 
> notes even when I shy away
> from actually reading speeches verbatim.
> Mr Blunkett was rarely seen without his guide dog, Lucy
> It's no secret that I found reading statements at the Despatch Box in the 
> Commons a trial.
> Statements have to be read verbatim because the print version has been 
> handed out, whereas of course
> speeches are an entirely different matter and much more up my street - as, 
> of course, with answering
> questions.
> With a set of notes you can make a speech having learnt the art of oratory 
> at a very early age. In
> fact it's probably a question of cause and effect. My own development of 
> oratory came from the fact
> that by using notes I could overcome the difficulty of not being able 
> quite so fluently as I would
> wish to skim over a written page of Braille - for Braille doesn't have the 
> opportunity to provide
> highlights.
> You can't simply write Braille in large form so that as with print you can 
> "catch your eye" on
> something that it is absolutely vital to deliver or to emphasise. 
> Underlining is possible, but more
> out of technical form than in terms of being able to quickly highlight 
> what needs to be referred to
> and at what point.
> Therefore, for me, Braille has been a method of ensuring that I can work 
> on equal terms, using my
> own initiative and doing it in my own way.
> As we celebrate the 200th birthday of Louis Braille, we lift a glass at 
> the New Year to thank him
> for the ingenuity, the confidence and the determination
> For others, it has been an absolutely vital way of ensuring private 
> correspondence and, with more
> recent developments, being able to demand bank statements which allow 
> privacy rather than relying on
> someone else to read them (perhaps a neighbour) at a time when 
> confidentiality could be crucial.
> In the future, so many of the public forms and communications we receive 
> could easily be put in
> Braille by the use of computer software and the transcription equipment 
> now readily available to
> public authorities.
> My staff use exactly such software, along with Braille embossers, in order 
> to be able to produce
> material for me on a regular basis.
> So, as we celebrate the 200th birthday of Louis Braille, we lift a glass 
> at the New Year to thank
> him for the ingenuity, the confidence and the determination that ensured 
> that others like him sought
> and gained independence, equality and dignity.
> Whilst doing so, we should recognise the critical role of organisations 
> working with and on behalf
> of blind people, such as the Royal National Institute of the Blind here in 
> the UK, whose support and
> resource base is crucial to making this old invention come alive in 
> imaginatively new ways.
> The year 2009 will indeed, here and across the world, be a chance to 
> recognise this form of
> communication as an essential liberator, a window on the world for 
> children reading their books
> (under their bedcovers, as I did), or adults being able to go about their 
> business with confidence -
> and with the certainty that very few other people will be able to read 
> their secrets.
> RNIB - Happy birthday Louis
> http://www.rnib.org.uk/xpedio/groups/public/documents/publicwebsite/public_louisbirthday.hcsp
> The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
> http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7807217.stm
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