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How Did Louis Braille Become Blind

January 5, 2012 by staff 

How Did Louis Braille Become Blind, Carey Burriss carries a small black notebook in his pocket. While the sheets inside are blank, the raised dots embossed on the pages are all he needs to read what he was thinking.

Instead of jotting his notes down, he uses a stylus to make indents on the pages. Metal sheets – one on top with holes for the stylus to go into and one on the bottom with wells in which the stylus can rest – can be placed on either side of the sheets to guide his hand as he writes. When he writes, he’s writing in Braille.

Burriss had the notebook with him Wednesday while he celebrated Louis Braille’s birthday at the Anderson Mall. As president of the Anderson County chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, Burriss set a display out at the mall to recognize the birth of a man who changed the lives of so many blind men and women.

“If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be able to read,” Burris said. “We might have come up with a different system eventually, but he was the one who made it possible for the blind to read and write.”

Braille, who became blind at age 3 while playing with an awl in his father’s wood shop, was an instructor at a French school for the blind when he developed the system, oddly enough using an awl. Based on the placement of six dots in a cell, the system allowed the blind to communicate in ways they couldn’t before.

“Access to communication in the widest sense is access to knowledge, and that is vitally important for us if we (the blind) are not to go on being despised or patronized by condescending sighted people,” Braille said. “We do not need pity, nor do we need to be reminded we are vulnerable. We must be treated as equals – and communication is the way this can be brought about.”

For Burriss, Braille means being able to read and write like normal sighted people, and to work like sighted people.

“A lot of times, the blind thought that the only thing they could do was to work in sweat shops or broom factories,” Burris said. “But there are a lot of blind people who are able to do a lot more. Braille helps them to be able to do that.”

Burris’ chapter of the National Federation of the Blind meets from 6 to 8 p.m. on the fourth Monday of every month except December at the Coach House restaurant on Shockley Ferry Road.

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