Monday, 15 December 2008

Louis Braille

I should think that everyone knows who invented Braille. Louis Braille, of course and all the blindness charities round the world will rightly be celebrating Louis’ wonderful achievement, Margaret and I very much with the rest. Our personal lives have been transformed by Braille.

But Louis Braille was really all about information, communication, reading and writing if you can’t see. Paper and bodged dots was the technology available to him at the time; but what if Louis was around today? What would 21st Century Braille be like?

I fancy he would be like us at and getting very excited about the modern computer that can speak, read, tell you what you are writing and amazingly put you in touch with people and information un-dreamed of in his dots and paper age. He might too, like us, have wanted all this to be a free option, there for even the poorest blind person.

He lived in an institution, died largely unrecognised except by his close mates and, like many brilliant inventors, failed to reap material rewards for his genius. I wonder who his boss was, if he had a Line Manager or a business plan. My guess is that he never got invited to the posh charity events of his time. How many of us know the name of the very important blind institution where he worked or even what his “proper job” was supposed to be. I wonder if it entered his head to charge his blind peers for Braille books, so much per page, per dot etc.

Its very right to be celebrating the memory of Louis Braille’s birth on January 4 and throughout 2009, but let’s learn some basic lessons and celebrate the human being, the inventor, the genius of a blind man and not just milk it to raise funds.

I was emailed by RNIB and asked to publish details of Louis Braille celebration events mostly here in the UK and I am pleased to be able to do this so that our many Thunder supporters round the world can pay tribute to a great man. But I do like the Australian touch best: A day on the beech in the sun.

The Louis Braille Bicentenary
Louis Braille was born on the 4th January 1809. To celebrate the achievements and legacy of this remarkable man, organisations across the globe are planning special programmes of events for 2009. A brief summary follows:-
RNIB events
RNIB will be using the year not only to raise awareness of braille but also to encourage more people (particularly adults) to learn braille
• From January 2009, there will be an advertising campaign and media relations demonstrating how braille has changed peoples lives.
• On the 4th January RNIB will launch an exciting new look website containing lots of up to date information, podcasts and videos
• There will be a high profile signature event in March. David Blunkett, the patron for the years celebrations, will attend the proceedings
• Two amateur radio enthusiasts have secured the call sign GB2HLB. They will be in contact with other enthusiasts around the world between the 26th December 2008 and 22nd January 2009.
• RNIB Cymru will be holding a children's essay competition. Children will be invited to write an essay with a welsh theme in either English or Welsh braille
• In Late Spring 2009, RNIB will be publishing the results of a major piece of research on the issues facing adults learning braille
• Two key products will be launched. The first, a grade one braille course is for both sighted and touch learners. The kit will contain braille writing equipment so that learners can immediately start to label things and write short notes. The second product is the innovative 'upward' writing frame which means that braille no longer has to be written using the reverse mirror writing method. The stylus makes 'upward' dots.
• A book will be published in conjunction with the EBU. It will contain a selection of winning essays entitled 'How Braille changed my life'
• The annual UK Techshare conference highlights the role of technology in the everyday life of people with disabilities. In September it will have a braille theme and it is hoped it will host the French traveling exhibition on Louis Braille and his legacy
Other UK Activities
• RNIB, Torch, Blind Catholics, Guild of Church braillists, St. John's Guild, and others are organising a Louis Braille thanksgiving service to be held at St. Martin's in the Fields, London on Saturday March 21st
• The BBC world service plan to broadcast a programme on the 4th January 2009, highlighting the global reach and appeal of braille in its many forms. There will also be sections on the life of Louis Braille and braille and innovation.
• Traveleyes, a company specialising in holidays for blind and partially sighted people is organising a trip to France in May 2009 with a Louis Braille theme.
• National Braille Week are organising an international Chess tournament in Edinburgh running from the 2nd January to the 4th January 2009. All moves will be recorded in Braille. There will also be a braille exhibition.
Some International Events
• The French organising committee (CINAL) are having a 4 day symposium beginning on the 4th January 2009 with a concert in Paris in the Notre Dame Cathedral. The conference is entitled 'Braille 2009 - 6 dot writing and its future'.
• The Americans have produced a silver dollar featuring the face of Louis Braille on the head side. It will cost $11 dollars and the $10 premium will be directed to groups which benefit the blind.
• CINAL are organising a second conference in June. It will take place in Coupvray (the birth place of Louis Braille) and will cover independence, integration and access to knowledge. It will inform the 'Coupvray Charter' which will have 10 key political proposals. The activities will conclude with a concert featuring Stevie Wonder and Andrea Bocelli
• National Braille Press has produced a range of promotional items (lapel pins, notelets, Bookmarks, Key chains, Poster) These are all for sale at
• On the 4th January the Australians are having a celebration on the beach with a 50 metre long braille sand sculpture. 'The spirit of Louis Braille will meet the spirit of Australia in the sand the sun and the surf'.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008


RADAR is a very influential charity in the UK, bringing together a pan-disability approach to empower and prosper Screenreader was nominated for an Disabled Entrepreneur of the Year Award and we went along on 1st December to a fabulous evening at the Battersea Evolution in London. There were over three hundred people, many or most disabled in all sorts of ways, the food, drink and flowed all for free and we did not mind that we were not the winners. Blindness gets a good deal of empathy but we chatted to people who had been involved in accidents and suddenly were not able to walk, people, sometimes in high positions, who had suffered mental health, depression etc, and some who could hardly move a muscle. So we are fine, but just can’t see.

It takes me a long time to grow up and understand. For years I thought such glitzy occasions were a total waste of money and time. The RADAR evening budget, for instance, could run our enterprise for more than a year, for sure. But I have been wrong.

Margaret and I were poshed up in our bow tie and evening dress etc which is certainly not our style and Tania, Margaret’s guide dog, sported a matching bow. But its what inside that counts and we chatted away to like-minded people who are obsessed, like us, with their project, living on pretty low incomes, probably less than the lowest paid jobs in Tesco and the like. They would be shouting for disabled people in Newcastle, campaigning for those in sheltered accommodation to be able to earn more than £20 a week in a society where top bankers get millions a year when retired early for the mess they have played a part in creating. We met a chap from Kenya, over hear amongst our wealth, to return home with ideas to improve the lives of blind people with great brains but no job or money. ,

If everyone went home as fired up as we were, then some good things for disabled people are going to happen over the coming year and the money was well spent. And we all had the opportunity of appearing amongst representatives of large organisations and celebrities who really do have the power and the influence to make big-time changes in Society. Amongst the sponsors were Sky, BBC, Lloyds TSB, a bank actually getting applause, and the Home Office.

No one seemed bowed down by the credit crunch and the gloomy economic forecasts and we for sure will double our efforts to get our free software round the world. Yesterday, working with a student from Nepal, a computer spoke the first words in Nepalese and we plan to work closely with a school for blind children and young people out there. And, if all goes well, we will be putting our efforts into Swahili with the cooperation of the Kenyan Blind Union.

At home, here in the UK, we have landed our first Government contract with the ministry of Justice on the theme of engaging blind people in the political process. We have to teach, on line, our users to blog, take part in petitions, easily get information from the web, and generally make their voice and needs heard by our politicians.

For the last year, we have been working on some software for people with learning difficulties as well as little or no sight. Software is never done; always a work in progress. But is where you will find more details and the chance to try it out or at least tell others about it for us, please. Lots of goodies for people who have not been able to get much out of a computer up to now. There is easy access to music, radio choices, a talking calendar, dice, clock and even some games and educational stuff. So please spread the word for us if you are able.

Back to The People of the Year Awards: The Winning Entrepreneur had been shot up in Iraq. Within two years, he has set up a business which teacher==s professionals how to deal with severely damaged victims on the spot, in that first precious hour, so that they survive, even though badly damaged. A great tribute to the human spirit which is indomitable in some people.