EBU(Senior group) Fine Work
In The Spirit Of Louis Braille
The Netherlands Herman Kleton(54/Male)
I put the book about Louis Braille that I’ve just been reading open next to me and wonder what he would think of the opportunities that are available today for people with a visual disability to participate in social life. What would he think of the role that his invention, Braille, has played in the emancipation of people who are blind or have low vision? Would he believe me if I told him that we now have Braille lines to read text that appears on the computer screen? Would he believe that Braille and Braille music are the universal, normal script for people who are blind or have low vision? There’s only one way to find out: ask him!
I travel to the old school for the blind in nineteenth-century Paris and there I find Louis Braille in a worrying situation. Tuberculosis is overwhelming him, but his mind appears to be still incredibly sharp.
I’m sitting opposite him at the table; a tiny, skinny man with pale skin and black-ringed eyes. Eyes that stare without seeing. The sound of his voice is soft, somewhat gravely; it must have sounded melodious in earlier years. However, he does speak fast with passion, gesturing with his hands. Every now and then, he has to stop: a fit of coughing. He makes excuses, a real gentleman, a real Frenchman.
“Your Dutch is excellent,” I compliment him. He grins. “It needs to be,” he reacts, “you don’t speak French.” The man is a genius, that much is clear.
“I’d like to talk to you about Braille,” I explain my presence. He frowns. “Braille?” he echoes. “Yes, I mean your invention: the dot script.” “O that,” he says indifferently, “what would you like to know?”
“You say that my dot script is taught to people who are blind, or have low vision, all over the world?” he repeats with incredulity. “And that all the blind people read my script, in every language? And you want to make me believe that there are thousands, no, millions of books in special libraries? Sir, what do you think I am? A fool?” He becomes very excited and then again, has an awful fit of coughing. I realise that Louis Braille is not Jules Verne and that genius also has its limitations! How do I explain to him that I’m from 2012 and that I was born more than 150 years after him? If someone told me a story like this I would ring 112!
A sign of the time
I tell him that I don’t know myself how it’s possible either, but that I really have come from the future. I give him my Braille watch to prove it: a sign of the times. I’ve already opened its little lid. He carefully feels the dial. “Wow, that’s handy!” he acknowledges. “And you call this a Braille watch? Is this called after me too? I cannot remember ever having had such a thing in my hands before.” I explain to him that the name comes from the tactile dots and stripes on the dial. “Is everything that is provided with tactile dots in your time called ‘Braille’?” he wants to know. A poppy seed roll pops up in my mind. “No, not necessarily,” I say, “only the things that are specifically developed for blind people that have tactile dots, such as this watch. We also have, for example, Braille alarm clocks, Braille paper, Braile typewriters, Braille gauges, Braille printers, Braille lines....”
I have a lot to explain to him. Every now and then, he interrupts me to ask a question or to clear his chest. His initial suspicion is replaced by curiosity. “So with the computers and that internet you can communicate with one another and access all the information there is? And with that Braille line, you can read what appears on screen?” “Correct,” I confirm, not knowing if it’s my explanation or his imagination that enables him to follow me so easily. The 150 years or more separating us seem to have disappeared. “And you say that blind people in your time have a better life?” he continues. “Can study? And even do meaningful work?” I nod, forgetting he’s blind. He sees it, forgetting he’s blind.
Born too early
“I was born too early,” he sighs. “Oh, how I would have loved to have lived in your time. I would....” An explosive fit of coughing follows. You can hear he has no breath. Compassion fills me. The tragedy of this man, this genius: an intense bright light that shone for such a short time. How unfair fate can be!
“You were born right on time, Sir Braille,” I assure him in an attempt to comfort. “Without you the future for blind people and for those with low vision would have been completely different. Because of you and your dots we have gained access to information and knowledge which would otherwise have been beyond our reach. You cannot imagine how much we have to thank you for! We can live our lives as we want, because people like you have made that possible. We live in your spirit!”
It’s quiet for a long time. The echo of my words hangs between us. Braille raises his head. Then he nods, barely noticeably, as if he is considering, understanding and accepting his role in history. “Okay,” he then says, not without cynicism, “I might not have been born too early, but I certainly died too soon!” He grins, in the way that only a person, who knows how near death is, can do; a person who realises how soon his departure is going to be.
The Braille mystery
I wake up. What’s the time? I move my right hand to my left wrist, an automatic reaction. Hey, no watch! I’d swear I had it on before. I don’t understand. Where did I put the thing? Right, I’ll find it later. I pick up the open Braille book laying next to me: ‘The Life and Work of Louis Braille’. I look for the sentence where I was before and read:
‘Louis Braille seems to have been the first blind person who owned a battery-driven Braille watch. How he got it, is unknown.’