Every January 4, we celebrate the birthday of Louis Braille, who developed his famous braille code when he was only a teenager. As an avid braille reader myself, I am proud of the American Foundation for the Blind's enduring commitment to fostering braille literacy throughout the 100 years of our existence.
In the early days of our organization, AFB worked hard to standardize the English braille code, knowing that would make it cheaper and easier to produce. Our first CEO, Dr. Robert Irwin, was in the forefront of the delegation that successfully brought about the establishment of Standard English braille for all English-speaking countries in 1932. You can read all about the occasionally heated drama, including Helen Keller's thoughts on it, in The War of the Dots (an excerpt from Irwin’s memoir).
In the 1990s, AFB successfully joined forces with educators, parents, professionals, and other national organizations to amend the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to ensure that every student who is blind or visually impaired has a right to learn and read braille. And AFB’s continued advocacy was instrumental in further clarifying IDEA to establish, for the first time, the right of all students who are blind or visually impaired or who have print disabilities to receive their textbooks and instructional materials in the format, including braille, most appropriate to the student and on the first day of class.
Today we cover new developments in braille technology through our free monthly magazine, AccessWorld, and continue to research and advocate for equitable access to education for students who are blind or low vision.
Braille is a gift. It is essential to developing literacy and it levels the playing field, allowing students who are blind or visually impaired to learn at the same pace as their sighted peers, so there are no limits on their potential. For me personally, as a voracious reader, braille opened the doors to entire worlds, from non-fiction to science fiction to everything in between. I rely on braille every day at work, and I read fiction every single day.
This year, I thought I'd share my own personal "best braille reads of the year" list.
Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance, Julia Cameron
Gingerbread: A Novel, Helen Oyeyemi
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, ZZ Packer
My First Little Book of Intersectional Activism, Titania McGrath
Leave it to Psmith, P. G. Wodehouse
We join our colleagues at the World Blind Union in celebrating World Braille Day and recognizing the critical importance of braille as a joyful part of life, and a key component in inclusive and equitable education for blind students. Reading is a fundamental part of humans’ overall quality of life — not just for education and employment, but to be a well-informed citizen and a person who can enjoy art, poetry, and fiction, who can engage in entertainment and escape as well as history and current events.
As we begin our next 100 years, AFB will continue to advocate for the availability of braille across every area of life, from school to the workplace to daily living. We can do great things when we join forces, and I know a world of no limits is something we can create together.