A statue of Louis Braille at La Ressource, in the Hauts de Sainte-Marie of Reunion. Photo: Thierry Caro
On World Braille Day (January 4), we’re reflecting on the impact of Louis Braille’s work by sharing stories from people across Wisconsin. The celebration of Braille’s birthday, January 4, 1809, focuses on how his contributions created equity for generations of people who are blind or visually impaired across the globe.
As a teen nearly 200 years ago, Braille made it possible for people with vision loss to have access to written materials and a way to generate their own written words. Reading and writing braille are linked to literacy and academic success as well as opportunity and employment.
The work to incorporate braille into everyday life here in the US and across the world continues today. Through accessible ballot initiatives and producing public documents in braille, as with India’s constitution recently, we are building on Louis’ legacy.
In the words of those who use it each day, braille is an indispensable part of their lives and livelihoods. It is used for everything from banking, cooking and labeling appliances, to reading, studying, playing games and learning music.
“My employment would not have been successful without it and maintaining my everyday activities relies upon its use,” says Patty Slaby of Arcadia, a Council board member.
Once learned, it is difficult to imagine living without this language, yet only five percent of people with vision loss read and write braille. As with any language, most people learn it best as children. Most adults who lose their sight either do not learn braille or learn it for basic applications like labeling common household items.
In her role as Council program assistant, Judith Rasmussen converts written materials into braille, including the Council Courier newsletter, legislative priority documents and more. She uses braille in her personal life to continue learning new languages and uses a brailled ballot to vote. “Literacy is important to me and braille is the tool for achieving it,” she says. “I use it to take notes for my job and in Spanish classes, read for enjoyment, and vote independently in elections.”
David Walle of La Crosse says knowing braille means being able to access to books of all kinds. “As a deaf-blind person, braille provides a vital means of reading material that I might not otherwise be able to read through hearing,” he says. “Since I have bilateral cochlear implants, I do not always hear some materials which are recorded via the spoken word, so I appreciate braille so much more now as a deaf-blind individual.”
La Crosse resident and Council board member Rhonda Staats notes that braille, “unleashed my mind,” by connecting her to so much – spelling, education, professional learning and books with her grandchildren.
Board member Karen Heesen considers braille a gift she was given as a child that she now gives to others as a teacher at the Wisconsin School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Janesville. “Had I not learned braille as a child, I wouldn’t know the joy of having a book on my lap, text beneath my fingers, and losing myself in the characters, plots, and places of a story,” says Heesen, who also serves on the Council board.
Nona Graves learned early on the importance of always having her braille tools along to write things down. Even with the recorders and notetakers available today she says, “I am seldom without my slate and stylus – you can write on almost any kind of paper…and they never run out of batteries.”
These are just a few examples of how braille has impacted the lives of people in communities throughout our state. If you would like to share your story, fill out our short form.
Join us in commending the accomplishments of Louis Braille and continuing to work on providing access to the language he created that makes a difference for so many.
There are many valuable braille resources, including the following:
- Call us at 608-255-1166 to request braille bookmarks with each letter of the alphabet.
- Find transcription and library services at Audio & Braille Literacy Enhancement or Braille Library and Transcribing Services (BLTS).
- Request an absentee ballot in braille from the clerk where you live. Find more information at the Wisconsin Elections Commission website Elections.wi.gov. (Note that braille ballots are not available in all municipalities).