2009 marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille, inventor of the braille code, and was embraced throughout Australia as a wonderful occasion to celebrate braille past and present.
A highlight of the celebrations was the Braille on Manly Beach (BoMB) project, when a message was created on the beach using giant sand-sculpted braille dots.
Publications and resources
Rebecca Maxwell and her group of “proudly braille-dependent” supporters known as ABLA (Australian Braille Literacy Action) celebrated the anniversary by compiling a book of 49 interviews with blind people for whom braille is an important part of living. Titled Blind and Busy, the book is an important part of our social history and an enduring legacy to braille. It is available for purchase in etext format or for loan as electronic or embossed braille through the Queensland Braille Writers Association and Vision Australia libraries.
RIDBC Renwick Centre produced a Louis Braille Bicentenary website that contains a range of resources providing an overview of the history of Braille and an introduction to the Braille code. These include braille facts, nearly 20 minutes of videos, a crossword puzzle, 10 quiz questions, article reviews, links to other interesting web-sites and much more!
Royal Society for the Blind (RSB) worked in partnership with the Adelaide Advertiser to produce an education supplement that highlighted the importance of braille.
On 23 July, ABA Queensland held the launch of their book, The Joy of Life, at the Sherwood Indooroopilly RSL. The book was a long-term project, about five years in the making, but its launch was seen as an opportunity to celebrate both the life of the late Mercy Dickinson, in whose honour the book has been compiled, and that of Louis Braille. The book is available for loan from the Queensland Braille Writers Association library.
The staff of Aspley East State School Disability Services Unit created a braille awareness resource to be used in the classroom. More than 20 worksheets enabled children of various ages and levels of ability to learn about braille in a fun, interactive way. The program was made available on CD-ROM at a small cost.
A braille promotion kit was produced and distributed to all primary schools in the ACT.
Envelopes and Bookmarks
Vision Australia organised a number of activities during 2009, including a collaboration with Australia Post that resulted in the release of embossed braille envelopes. In print and braille on one side of the envelope is the text “Vision Australia honours Louis Braille, who provided the key to literacy for people who are blind”. On the other side, in large dots with graduated spacing, is “200 years Louis Braille”.
On Australia Day, 26 January 2009, the Association for the Blind of WA was given an opportunity to participate in the Lotterywest Skyworks event, making the Skyshow more accessible to people who are blind or vision-impaired. This provided an opportunity to not just make the show accessible but to also mark the bicentenary of the birth of Louis Braille. Staff in the Community Relations team took to the Perth foreshore and handed out a description of the entire 30 minute Skyshow in braille. A braille alphabet bookmark was also provided for sighted spectators challenging them to decipher the dots. The estimated crowd for this event was 300,000.
Events (and cakes!)
At the 2009 Round Table meeting dinner we commemorated the bicentenary with a cake-cutting ceremony. The cake was decorated with “Celebrating 200 Years of Braille”, and was suitably tasty.
In May 2009, renowned blind musician, teacher and transcriber, Dorothy Hamilton, addressed an audience of 120 people at Ripponlea, Victoria, on the topic of Louis Braille and the importance of Braille.
A very successful Louis Braille celebration day was held at the Maribyrnong Centre in the ACT, attended by blind children and their friends from mainstream schools, as well as other members of the local community and government officials.
The Statewide Vision Resource Centre developed a presentation about Louis Braille that was included as part of the classroom teachers’ professional development program. About 140 primary and secondary school teachers were involved in this training program. The Centre also held a Louis Braille Day on May 25, during Victorian Education Week. The early- and mid-primary students took part in activities relating to Louis Braille.
The Association for the Blind of WA’s Braille Production Unit hosted a morning tea for its transcribers and proofreaders. Guest speaker was the Program Manager of the Association’s Family and Children’s Services, who spoke to the young clients in the Children’s Services area about the benefits and impact of braille.
The Association for the Blind of WA also conducted an Open Day where members of the public were invited to visit its building, interact with the fun activities and better understand the work of the organisation. A focus of this event was a braille celebration where Senator Judith Adams cut the Louis Braille birthday cake, which was decorated with a braille inscription.
The Queensland Braille Writing Association (QBWA) held its Annual General Meeting on 24 June 2009. There was a special presentation on the bicentenary, with a birthday cake, and a talk by braille music educator, Jacquie Conn, on her experiences at the celebrations in France in January 2009.
QBWA’s annual Braille Reading and Writing Competition for school students was held on 11 September 2009. The theme for the day was Louis’ 200th birthday, with many of the reading and writing passages focusing on 200 years of braille.
The Australian Braille Authority Queensland Subcommittee’s Louis Braille bicentennial celebrations included public library displays beginning in July at the Annerley library and continuing into 2010. The exhibits featured braille books of various styles, sometimes along with the print equivalent, as well as maps, tactual pictures and photographs showing the uses of braille. There were also touchable braille posters on display and braille alphabets and print flyers to take home.
As part of Brisbane City Council Library Services‘ “Live in the Libraries” program, soprano, Julie-Anne Van Der Boor, presented a series of performances in the Indooroopilly, Toowong and Corrinda libraries throughout October. In this “educational and musically elegant” performance, Julie-Anne provided braille music for the audience to “read”, and demonstrated how braille empowers braille-literate musicians.