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Blind Activists Celebrate Braille: The Original "blackberry"

2009 is the 200th birthday of Louis Braille, the inventor of the "braille" method of writing and reading for people who are blind

Ottawa (15 January 2009)--Across Canada throughout 2009, members of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC) and other disability rights organizations will celebrate the 200th birthday of Louis Braille and his method of writing and reading.

"Braille is a blind person's pathway to literacy and independence," says Robin East, President of the AEBC, a national organization of blind consumers. "With today's technology, it is easier to produce braille than ever before."

Braille is said to be rooted in a demand by Napoleon for a silent system of communication between soldiers that could be used in the dark. Louis Braille applied the concept to invent his system of raised dots on paper, symbolizing letters and numbers. Since 1821, the braille system has granted independence in reading, writing, mathematics and music for tens of thousands of blind persons around the world.

Some claim that braille is no longer needed because computer technology now makes it possible to translate most text into speech through screen-reading software. John Rae, AEBC's 1st Vice President and former NUPGE human rights activist, disagrees.

"All of this technology is wonderful," Rae says. "However, braille remains critical today, as there are situations where you cannot take the technology with you, or the technology doesn't function for some reason. As long as you have a slate and stylus with you and you know how to use it, you are in business."

A slate and stylus are lightweight utensils that a person can carry in a pocket or purse, and use to write notes just like a sighted person would with a pen and paper.

Marc Workman, AEBC's National Secretary, is currently a graduate student at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. "There are different levels of braille," he explains. "The first level, uncontracted grade one braille, should be taught, or at least introduced, to all people who are vision-impaired, even if at the present time the person has enough sight to read large print, as braille becomes more important later in life.

"Both braille and technology are necessary in today's world if a blind person is going to compete successfully in the education system or the workplace," says Workman. "If the school system is turning out blind students who can not read and write without the use of technology, it is the same as turning out sighted students who don't know how to use a pen and paper."

Reprinted from the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) website: www.nupge.ca