A Bumpy Anniversary For Braille Happy birthday to Louis Braille, the founder of the tactile communication system for the blind, born 200 years ago Sunday.
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A Bumpy Anniversary For Braille

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A Bumpy Anniversary For Braille

A Bumpy Anniversary For Braille

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille, and around the world, millions of people are celebrating. Braille's alphabet of raised dots has helped those without sight read and write. Mike Hudson is the director of the Museum for the American Printing House for the Blind in Louisville, Kentucky, where celebrations are being held. And he joins us from member station WFPL. Welcome to the program, Mike.

Mr. MIKE HUDSON (Museum Director, American Printing House for the Blind): Thank you, Liane.

HANSEN: What is your organization doing to mark Braille's birthday?

Mr. HUDSON: We're celebrating all things French, and so not only looking at Braille's life and the code that he invented, but also the music, the literature, and the food of the day.

HANSEN: Can you give us just a little thumbnail biography of Braille and, as you say, his code?

Mr. HUDSON: Well, he was born in 1809 in a little village outside of Paris, France. And by the time he was six, he had gone blind. He was lucky that he lived in the only country in the world that actually had a school for kids that were blind or visually impaired where he was exposed to the only books that had been made for the blind anywhere in the world, and those were in raised letters.

They were very hard to learn how to use. And at some point, a man named Charles Barbier, a soldier, tested a system of writing with dots at the school. And Braille took that system, adapted it, and made it into the system that we use today - the code, as I say - basically a substitution code of using dots instead of the letters that sighted people use.

HANSEN: Can I ask what kind of artifacts do you have in the museum?

Mr. HUDSON: The oldest artifact we have is from 1786. It's actually the only copy that we know of, of one of those raised-letter books that was in that school for the blind in Paris.

HANSEN: It's now common to see Braille underneath the buttons of an elevator or on the automatic teller machines. I wonder, are there some new technologies -emerging ones maybe - that might eventually make Braille obsolete?

Mr. HUDSON: Here's the thing about Braille. Braille allows someone to actually read and write, whereas almost every other technology that we've come up with really is just kind of a complicated way of reading, not writing.

HANSEN: And so it won't be obsolete, but it could exist on a computer keyboard, for example.

Mr. HUDSON: Exactly.

HANSEN: Well, I guess this is the time to say, all hail to Louis Braille.

Mr. HUDSON: Without Braille, a lot of personal memory that's out there would not ever have been written down.

HANSEN: Mike Hudson is museum director at the American Printing House for the Blind. Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille. And Mike Hudson joined us from member station WFPL in Louisville, Kentucky. Thank you very much. Have fun.

Mr. HUDSON: Thank you.

HANSEN: This is NPR News.

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