Starting last Thursday, March 26, you can purchase specially minted coins bearing the likeness of Frenchman Louis Braille and in memory of his bicentennial. Only 400,000 coins will be minted and they can not be ordered after Dec. 31, 2009. In addition to being minted in a limited quantity, the coins will be the first ever from the U.S. Mint to feature readable Braille on them.
The NFB anticipates raising as much as $8 million for the campaign, which will be used be used to advance Braille education for the blind in the following ways:
- Increase access to Braille instruction and reading materials
- Expand Braille mentoring, reading-readiness and outreach programs
- Require national certification in literary Braille among all special education teachers
- Advance the use of Braille in current and emerging technologies
- Research new methods of teaching and learning Braille
- Enact legislation in all 50 states requiring special education teachers of blind children to obtain and maintain the National Certification in Literary Braille by 2015.
- Make Braille resources more available through online sharing of materials, enhanced production methods, and improved distribution.
- 90 percent are Braille illiterate
- Braille illiteracy is a major reason why there’s a 70 percent (!) unemployment rate among the blind
- About 70,000 Americans go blind each year, most of whom are also Braille illiterate.
The figures sited in the press materials with respect to Braille illiteracy among the blind are shocking. To this outsider, it seems like Braille literacy went from being considered an absolute necessity for the blind to being ignored and neglected in not much longer than a generation. How did that happen?
Fifty years ago, most blind people who received an education at all attended residential schools for the blind, where they were taught Braille as a matter of course. As blind children began to be mainstreamed into public schools, however, a number of factors contributed to Braille's decline. Braille teachers had to travel within and between school districts to work with several children, so the amount of Braille instruction each child received decreased. Some school districts found it easier to teach children who had some residual vision to read print, thereby, they thought, eliminating the need to hire a Braille teacher. Because the number of schools needing Braille materials for Braille readers increased since blind children were scattered among thousands of school districts rather than concentrated in schools for the blind, it became more difficult and time-consuming to produce more Braille textbooks and other learning materials. Finally, the advent of technologies like tape recorders and talking computers convinced some, falsely, that Braille was no longer necessary. These are just a few of the factors that have contributed to Braille's decline.You have a game plan to encourage and enable the blind to acquire Braille literacy. What can make Braille literacy ‘cool’ again?
Braille needs to be introduced to blind children as early as possible—at the same time reading is normally introduced to sighted children—so that they quickly associate Braille with reading and come to believe that reading is a fun activity. In other words, blind children can be encouraged to read Braille in the same way that other children are encouraged to read—by early introduction and activities with parents and teachers that make reading interesting and fun. There are books with both Braille and print that parents can read with their children, and the Braille Reading Pals program of the National Federation of the Blind is an early literacy program designed for beginning readers and their parents that uses fun activities and games to help children develop positive associations about reading Braille. The National Federation of the Blind also has a curriculum for elementary schools, called “Braille Is Beautiful,” to teach sighted children about Braille so that they understand this fascinating code and how it helps blind people read.This campaign reminds me of the breast cancer stamp campaign that the U.S. Post Office has conducted for about a decade now. That campaign has raised tens of millions of dollars for breast cancer research. Any chance that this campaign could continue with other coins in the years to come?
The National Federation of the Blind is interested in other opportunities to make the public aware of and increase Braille literacy. The Louis Braille bicentennial silver dollar was authorized by an act of Congress, as all U.S. Mint commemorative coins must be; there may be other quicker and more effective ways to continue to bring Braille literacy to the public’s attention. However, we will explore all options in ensuring our message reaches the public.It's fair to say that most of my readers are sighted. Aside from buying these coins, what can we do for the blind?
Please visit www.nfb.org to find out about the state and local organizations of blind people in your area; you can help your local chapter and state affiliate of the NFB in a number of ways such as doing volunteer work, attending conventions, helping with fund-raising, and more. Keep an eye on the NFB Web site for events on the local and national level in which you can participate. Visit www.braille.org and sign up for our newsletter so you can keep up with what’s happening in our national Braille literacy campaign. Join our March for Independence, which takes place this summer in Detroit as part of our national convention, to help us raise funds to improve the lives of blind people across the nation. If you can’t be in Detroit, you can still become a “virtual marcher” and help us raise funds.
Additionally, you can show your support for the Reading Rights Coalition, which represents people who cannot read print. The Coalition will protest the threatened removal of the text-to-speech function from e-books for the Amazon Kindle 2 outside the Authors Guild headquarters in New York City, at 31 East 32nd Street on April 7, 2009, from noon to 2:00 p.m. More info on this can be found here.
Tip of the hat to causemarketing Googlegroup member Monica G. for setting up the interview with Chris Danielsen.