Every January 4, we celebrate the birthday of Louis Braille, who developed his famous braille code when he was only a teenager. Learn more about the creation of the braille code by exploring AFB's Louis Braille Online Museum.
The American Foundation for the Blind's recognition of the importance of braille has been a constant throughout the 95 years of our existence.
AFB took the lead to standardize the English braille code, making 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.
For decades, AFB maintained the Directory of Services for Blind and Visually Impaired Persons in the United States and Canada, where you can find sources of audio, braille, or large print books, braille transcribers, or local agencies and schools where you can learn how to read braille. (Did you know the Directory is now available as a free, accessible app?)
In the 1990s, we successfully rallied 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.
In 1995, Frances Mary D'Andrea created the DOTS for Braille Literacy newsletter as part of a federal grant called the Braille Literacy Mentors in Training (BLMIT), a three-year project to connect experienced braille instructors with new teachers. The DOTS newsletter was a vehicle for sharing ideas, strategies, and resources about braille reading and writing instruction.
In 1996, AFB launched the "brl-help" listserve as another way for teachers of braille reading and writing to connect with one another.
In the Fall of 2000, AFB's Braille Bug® made her debut and by 2002, she had her own website, complete with acccessible games and activities to promote the love of braille.
Around the same time, the AFB Solutions Forum established braille transcriber workshops to address the critical shortage of braille transcribers. AFB brought together experts in web-based learning and braille transcription to develop a national training program for transcribing electronic files produced by commercial textbook publishers. And AFB 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.
The AFB National Literacy Center was officially established by 2001, as well as new projects like the Bridging the Gap workshops and national symposium, which created partnerships between adult literacy programs and rehabilitation centers in 16 states.
In October 2002, alongside 43 national organizations throughout the United States, we launched the AFB and Verizon National Campaign for Literacy, Textbooks, Transcribers, and Technology to promote the new career of braille textbook transcriber at the federal and state levels, and to raise awareness of the needs of blind and low-vision schoolchildren for timely access to textbooks and learning materials.
In 2013, the World Blind Union, with AFB's active participation, successfully advocated for the conclusion of an international treaty that will break down needless barriers between countries to allow the cross-border sharing of braille and other books. While the U.S. has yet to formally ratify the so-called Marrakesh Treaty and AFB continues to fight for its prompt ratification, this international accord has the potential to dramatically address a worldwide shortage of books available to people who are blind or visually impaired around the globe.
Also in 2013, we created AccessNote, the first notetaker app for iOS designed particularly for people using both QWERTY and refreshable braille display keyboards.
In 2016, we continued our tradition of promoting braille skills by publishing Beginning with Braille: Firsthand Experiences with a Balanced Approach to Literacy, Second Edition, which has been the go-to resource for educators teaching early braille literacy to students in the United States and abroad for more than 15 years. This highly anticipated second edition has been updated using Unified English Braille (UEB) and includes new teaching materials, record forms, and braille activities.
AFB Press also released the Burns Braille Guide: A Quick Reference to Unified English Braille, Second Edition, the perfect resource to keep in your classroom or in your pocket (revised and updated to reflect the changes introduced in the transition to UEB). This easy-to-use reference guide includes common braille-to-print and print-to-braille conversions, as well as punctuation, new UEB contractions, and general rules and new terminology.
How will you celebrate Louis Braille's birthday? We hope with a great book!