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Braille - the key to literacy

A presentation of Colin Lou, president of the European Union of Blind People , which was shown on a conference in Paris, organized by UNESCO on the occasion of the day of the mother tongue.

The Braille is not exactly language. It is a relief alphabet that could be used to write in every language. For blind people it is as important as their mother tongue. That's why I'm talking on that issue now on behalf of the World Union of Blind People and that's why UNESCO organizes an exhibition devoted to Braille that shows his use in the classroom.

Writing in Braille in the simplest way with slate and awl seems very difficult but it is not so especially if the blind man has been training since childhood. Often people who can see have asked me how much time it took me to learn Braille. I answer: "Approximately as much time as it took you to learn how to write and read when you were little." Now there are Braille typewrites, printers and displays, but I afraid I couldn't place in my diplomatic suitcase any of these devices as I could with my slate and awl.

It is not possible to exaggerate the importance of Braille for blind people. It is the key to literacy and therefore the way to the world of information. Unbelievable but blind people are part of a culture, based on literacy of less than 200 years. Today in our society literacy is the key to independence, work, education, and pleasure. And not only these things but literacy also determinate s society' s estimate of a man, determinates his value and helps him to realize it.

Some people will tell you that Braille is too difficult and it doesn't worth learning it after certain age. Yes, it is certainly more difficult. I was happy to learn Braille as a child. But I think that it is always worth learning it, even if you use it only when you inscribe your canned food in the larder. It will always help your independence.

People also say that the time of Braille had gone and it will be replaced by a synthetic speech. New technologies are a huge step forward . They make life of people who will never learn to write and read relief letters easy . But don't allow anyone to convince you that Braille is useless. It remains the only irreplaceable mean for direct and detailed contact with the text. That is required in the process of teaching, translation, apprehending legal documents and even when you make a speech. I wouldn't be able to make my speech or it wouldn't be so effective if it was not for the Braille.

My message to you is very simple: If you want progress, to improve the standard and quality of life of blind people in your country, give priority to Braille. Give priority to its products and stimulate studying of Braille. In this way you will be able to educate your blind children. Blind people as a whole will find easier their place as valuable citizens. They will have more opportunities to find work and will no longer be burdens of the society. Braille is nothing else but a key to liberty of all blind people in the world.
Why Braille alphabet?

The Braille alphabet is named after its discoverer, the Frenchman Louis Braille. He was born in 1809 in a settlement near Paris as a child that can see. At the age of 5 he hurts his eye with a knife in the workshop of his father, and after a while due to sympathy goes blind with the other eye, too . In the beginning attends the school in the settlement, and after that his parents bring him to Paris in a special school for blind children.

At the age of 16 in 1825 discovers the six-dotted relief alphabet, later named after him Braille.

He dies in 1852 at the age of 43 from tuberculosis as a man who has fulfilled the mission he was destined for.