I think that Louis Braille should be praised not only for giving blind people the way of reading and writing. I have read at least two biographies of Louis Braille and found how wonderful a man Braille had been.
His resignation from the well-paid position of an organ player for his student in need should be admired. Also, before his death, he ordered to burn all his loan receipts for his friends which proves that Louis had not put money in the first place.
While other students were sleeping he worked on the Braille code and thus risked his health and life. In fact the goal to invent an accessible code of reading and writing for the blind was the most important to him.
He did not expect any gratifications and honours for his invention but the ability to read and write in the system soon named after Braille by his friends was the greatest gift in return.
I learnt Braille at School for the Blind in Laski close to Warsaw. Small children practiced Braille by inserting small pegs into rectangular wooden pieces resembling Braille cells. In this way, we learnt to distinguish Braille dots. Then we began to write on Braille slates and later we were given Braille typewriters.
I still carry a small Braille slate in my handbag to note down a bank account number or names of my friends.
Interestingly, Laski students prepared own secret ciphers based on the Braille alphabet. The so-called subtracted code was the most popular among others. According to this, Braille signs were composed of dots not present in standard Braille, for instance the letter “A” represented by dot one was encoded by five dots 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.
Reading was the great passion when I received primary education. At that time, I read Braille books written by Curwood, Verne and Jack London. For me, books describing life of the Indians interested me more than those about good girls. Maybe because I was such a naughty girl and was troublesome for my teachers.
In my teens, I read novels published in numerous Braille volumes such as “Gone with the Wind” composed of 20 Braille volumes or “War and Peace” that had 22 volumes. While reading, I did not want to leave the characters and returned to my books whenever possible. Even at school during the lessons as a Braille book can be read on reader’s laps unnoticed by the teacher. I also smuggled Braille books to my bedroom and, instead of sleeping, got back to my favourite book characters when the teacher had turned off the light.
As a mother, I used to read books to my children in the evenings. The kids soon fell asleep since it was dark and they could not be distracted by pictures or light. While working as a librarian I went through the documentation and was shocked about the number of books I had read to my children.
At school time, I dreamt of being locked in the library just for one night as we could borrow books only once a week. As a librarian, I could read books with no restrictions as getting to know them belonged to my duties.
Of course, I benefit from modern technologies and I listen to audiobooks performed by my favourite actors but nothing can replace Braille for me.
Visually impaired people have different prevailing modalities. Some of them favour visual whereas others auditory information. If I have to remember something I need to have a text in Braille. I can listen to novels and stories but I would rather read scientific publications or texts in foreign languages.
I strongly appreciate the possibilities of Braille computer displays since being a blind with visual modality I cannot learn something when I only listen to the text.
Up to now, I sometimes hit on a keyboard the D character when I want to type number four since 4 is written in such a way.
I am strongly convinced that Braille makes me more independent. I can easily choose necessary medicine because of Braille labels. I can make notes, note down numbers or secret codes for my bank account and I am sure that nobody else can read them. On the meeting, I can check the time on a Braille watch. I cannot even imagine my life without Braille.
Without Braille I would not be able to finish my studies and find an interesting job. As a university student, I did not have a computer. I thus made notes in Braille and used Braille contractions. What a pity that Braille contractions are not common in my country.
While working in the Polish Association of the Blind, I befriended Louis Braille. At that time, I could read his biography and he became my closest friend. Our friendship strengthened when Małgosia, my youngest daughter was born on January 4th, 1999 that is on 190th anniversary of his birth.
I had to get back to work in the library for the blind when Małgosia was five months. I often took her to work and the staff carried her on a trolley for books. When she was a bit older she liked playing hide and seek between book shelves and sometimes guided blind book readers.
My children quickly found out my disability. Whenever they wanted to show me a picture, they put my hand on it and explained. One day, my daughter put my hand on a windowpane and exclaimed: “look mum, the baby’s crying.” Indeed, being close to the window I could hear a crying baby.
Now my grown-up children remember that I should have Braille books and they notice when I don’t have any. I don’t need to be encouraged as reading books is a pleasure for me.
I really enjoy reading Braille in places, not only visited by blind people, such as museums, lifts and offices. I will never forget reading the Lord’s Prayer in Braille in one church in Jerusalem since it was an extraordinary experience for me.
I am grateful to Louis Braille for such a wonderful way of writing that helps us to live the way healthy people live. With Braille, we can study and work to help ourselves and others. An educated blind person has the feeling of being independent and, above all, he is not a burden for others.
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