Two hundred years have elapsed since the birth of Louis Braille and the Braille System he invented in 1824 remains to date the most widely used printed form of communication among the vision impaired. On 4th January 2009, we commemorate the bicentenary of the birth of this ingenious person who developed a system of writing and printing for the sightless when he was only 15 years old. His was an embossing system that was easy to print and read by individuals and thus surpassed those of Valentin Hauy, William Moon and Charles Barbier. With the 63 combinations of the six dots, Braille to the blind is what writing is to the sighted. The fact that the Braille System still has not had a worthy contender lies in its logical and practical design. Since 1824, Braille has undergone several modifications including the introduction of the Nemeth code and the musical notation code which have expanded possibilities of vision impaired persons reaching their fullest potential.
Some believed in the past that computers would pose a threat to the existence of Braille. On the contrary, they have increased the overall availability and use of Braille. Most importantly, they have become common ground where sighted and sightless meet as equals. The unification of Braille codes, making Braille parallel to print, will consequently bring about equitable access to literacy by the blind. Whatever progress Braille has made today with the aid of technology, we owe it all to Louis Braille for, if not for his ingenious invention of the six dot code, the blind may still be in the dark. Almost two centuries gone, his original code still remains the core of the Braille Code we use today. I am sure that it will be so for at least another two hundred years more.
In gratitude to this great Frenchman, the Sri Lanka Council for the Blind (SLCB) organised the national celebrations of his two hundredth birth anniversary on 04th January 2009. The ceremony was held under the patronage of the Deputy Head of Mission of the Embassy of France in Sri Lanka at the Public Library, Colombo. The Chief guest unveiled a photograph of Louis Braille before he addressed the gathering. Guest of Honour, the Secretary to the Ministry of Social Service and Social Welfare and other special guests also addressed the gathering. Proceedings also included the singing of the Louis braille song composed by two blind persons, the award of scholarships to several deserving vision impaired students, presentation of slates to blind school leavers and the presentation of SLCB’s first magazine “Sadisi” on matters related to the vision impaired community to the Chief Guest. SLCB launched the Sinhala Text to Speech Softwre “Nuwana” on the same day. Any vision impaired person can obtain it free of charge from SLCB.