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Happy World Braille Day. January 4th celebrates the birth of Louis Braille who created the reading and writing code for those with sight loss. At the age of 15, he created this system of communication based on Charles Barbier’s writing system. Louis Braille did not live long enough to see the first braille curricular adapted by France’s Royal Institute for the Blind Youth which was implemented two years after his death. His genius invention lives on and can be found in everyday use in literature, public places and in various other places but a lot more needs to be done to ensure that this accessible form of communication is more wide spread.

Personally, I have only started learning braille over the last two years and I have only learnt grade one braille which consists of letters, numbers and punctuation. The grade two braille that consists of contractions are used in one or two cells to correspond with groups of letters or whole words. This is something that I want to work up to. Braille shorthand or grade three as it is otherwise known as, is something that will take a while to master but as it is used the least in the blind community then I am in no rush to learn it.

With the use of vast text to speech programmes and digital equivalents of braille available today, not all sight impaired individuals opt to learn braille but there is something quite beautiful about the textured words that flow across each page.

Having used touch since birth to be able to process information that most process through vision, there is something quite magical about feeling the written word. As the little dots transform into letters and words from textured pages, the brain becomes awakened to an alternative existence that not all are blessed to know. Slowly reading each word as it appears on the page, allows you time to really connect with each word one at a time. Feeling closer to the author’s voice is a fortunate by-product of reading Braille as the brain interprets the word kinetically. Activating another sense to enter the world of the written word, allows an alternative portal to be opened to the reader where old words take on new meanings.

As 15-year-old Louis devised this system that has been universally adapted today, I wonder if he ever perceived how popular it would become. His invention can now be felt on places from door signs in many places, on buttons on stop bells on public transport and to medication packs at supermarkets. His contribution to the world needs to be celebrated more as he has given the gift of connecting individuals with sight loss to the sighted world.

Working my way up to grade two Braille is something that I feel I need to do. Not only would it be an amazing skill to have but it also feels like it is a mark of respect for an individual who has changed the lives of many. Thank you, Louis Braille, for creating instead of waiting for another to create.

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