When I decided to go back to school to become a teacher of students with visual impairments, I shared my decision with a friend and teacher’s assistant in special education for over 21 years. While her class is not specifically for students with visual impairments, she has always made a point to read the story of Louis Braille to her students and to use it as an example to discuss the important life lessons it presents. "The life story of Louis Braille is universal," she said. "It has a lesson for all of us, sighted or visually impaired."
The Life Lessons of Louis Braille
Her reasons were simple, and she walked me through them: Louis Braille was a curious kid, like all kids; his story gives the kids an example of how to accept ourselves as we are, use our healthy brains, bodies, and talents to their best outcome; his story teaches kids how to leave their mark in the world. "While Louis Braille was an exceptional human being," she said, "I believe all children have the potential to take that story, find their personal strengths, and create something great for the world around them in their lifetime. That’s why I tell the story of Louis Braille."
The Impact of Louis Braille
Each year, many take pride in celebrating the life and work of Louis Braille around his birthday on January 4th. We look to the way Louis Braille broke through the alleged barriers of visual impairment by using his intellect, his creative instinct, and his relentless determination to invent, design, and innovate until education for people who are visually impaired was improved.
Although the original written braille code has evolved and undergone several revisions since Louis Braille’s first published version, the principle of this code and its logical sequence has remained firm. In the original braille code, Nemeth, contracted and uncontracted braille, and even in braille musical notation, Louis Braille put an accessible, sensible way to read and write into our fingertips. Most importantly, braille paves the way for an active future with broad opportunities. Louis Braille was a visionary and a change agent whose work is still moving mountains centuries later.
The Success of the Braille Code
The great success of Louis Braille’s written and musical braille code system is the simplicity and logic upon which it was founded. Rules and patterns are strategic; learning the code, while it can take time and practice, eventually becomes intuitive if you put in the time to learn and follow the rules. The braille literary code and braille music system have their own rhythm of sorts, so it makes sense that music was a stronghold in the life of Louis Braille from the time he was very young.
Just like he learned language and transposed it into literary braille code, Louis Braille learned the way music functions—the theory and scheme of musical notation and composition—and he created a system with which other visually impaired musicians could read and write music as their sighted peers. Louis Braille was an accomplished cellist and organist and taught many students to read and write music. His logical system of modified six-dot cells to represent the various tones of the scale and the notation on the musical page.
The Beneficiaries of the Braille Code
For organizations and academic institutions around the world serving our visually impaired brothers and sisters, Louis Braille’s impacts on academic, musical, and social fronts are indelible. He saw clarity where centuries of civilizations saw barriers and impossibilities. We are endlessly improving our teaching methods and finding ways to fund the research and engineering of new accessible and refreshable braille display technologies.
As we continue to raise disability awareness and implement universal design in public spaces, the presence of braille signs, symbols, and important landmarks continues to expand. Members in the community don’t need to know the individuals benefiting from the braille in the apartment elevator, on the subway ticket machine, or in the doctor’s office lobby; exposure to braille throughout our daily routine reminds us what inclusion means. Through his six-dot system, Louis Braille has eternalized the value of inclusion for blind and visually impaired men, women, and children.
Louis Braille is not just a hero for braille readers. As my friend has been doing with her students and the presence of braille code in public places has done for centuries, we can all spread the key lesson of inclusion in school, work, and in life through the genius invention of Louis Braille.