January was chosen for this celebration because it is the birth month of Louis Braille, the inventor of the system of raised dots that made it possible for people who are blind to read and write for themselves with independence and freedom.
Louis Braille was born on January 4, 1809. He became blind in an accident when he was three years old according to a biography at the American Foundation for the Blind. At that time, there were books with raised letters but these were difficult to produce and cumbersome to use. In 1821, Braille was introduced to ‘night writing,’ a code of twelve dots that a former soldier, Charles Barbier, had invented for soldiers to use to share information on the battlefield. Braille created a system that used only six dots and published the first book in Braille in 1829.
15 FACTS TO SHARE DURING BRAILLE LITERACY MONTH (from http://www.onlinecolleges.net/2012/01/17/15-facts-share-braille-literacy-month/):
- Braille is not a language;
- Lessons in Braille begin with tactile exercises;
- Louis Braille developed his eponymous system at age 15;
- At 20, he published the first complete book about the Braille system;
- The Missouri School for the Blind was the first American educational institution to accept Braille;
- Six-dot Braille cells have 63 possible combinations;
- There are three different “grades” of Braille;
- “Braille for feet” exists;
- Most legally blind children in the United States do not use Braille resources;
- At least 27 states hold legislation requiring that legally blind children have access to Braille resources;
- Visually impaired readers who learned on Braille have a lower unemployment rate than their print counterparts;
- The vast majority of legally blind students attend schools where the teachers do not know Braille;
- Braille users write with a slate and stylus;
- Braille and sign language are not interchangeable; and
- Most legally blind people can read print.
(From Lighthouse for the visually impaired and blind) There is a literacy crisis among the blind in America. Literacy is defined as the ability to read and write. For many persons with total or profound vision loss, the only way they can effectively read and write is by using Braille, a system of raised dots invented by a blind Louis Braille.
Being literate is essential to succeed in life. While the rate of unemployment for persons who are blind is extremely high (70%), it is interesting to note that 90% of blind individuals who are employed are Braille readers. The NFB, the oldest and largest organization of blind persons in the U.S., has been the champion of Braille literacy for decades. They have initiated a campaign to double the number of Braille readers by 2015.
The Annual Braille Challenge, also, promotes Braille literacy and competency. It is a national academic competition open to all blind students up to grade 12. The Challenge stresses reading comprehension, spelling, Braille speed and accuracy, proofreading and the reading of tactile charts and graphs.
For more information, please check out these links:
- American Foundation for the Blind (www.afb.org)
- National Foundation for the Blind (www.nfb.org)
- Shespeaks (http://www.shespeaks.com/Celebrating-National-Braille-Literacy-Month)
- Online Colleges (www.onlinecolleges.net)
- Lighthouse for the visually impaired and blind (www.lvib.org)