By Edeline Anne Goh
‘We, the blind, are as indebted to Louis Braille as mankind is to Gutenberg” – Helen Keller
In the 1800s, there was a young boy raised in a loving family in the town of Coupvray, France. His name was Louis Braille. He was a healthy young chap who loved to spend his time playing in his father’s horse tack workshop. However, at the age of 3, he injured his eye due to an accident that involved an awl that struck his eye. The accident, which initially affected one eye, soon started an infection and eventually caused Braille to lose sight in both eyes by the time he was 5.
The loss of Braille’s eyesight was the start of a revolution in the world of the visually impaired.
Colette Marsan, who wrote an overview of Braille’s life, noted that Braille was a brilliant and eager learner. He attended an ordinary local school even though he was blind and received a scholarship from the Royal Institution for Blind Youth (one of the first schools for the blind) in Paris at the age of 10.
While Braille was studying at the institution, Charles Barbier — a captain in Napoleon’s army — visited the school to demonstrate a system that he thought might be able to help the blind. The system was designed to send nocturnal messages to soldiers without the use of speech. This system was known as ‘night writing’.
Braille was attracted to the system and found that, with some adjustments, it would be useful for the visually impaired to read text. Hence, he started working on a new system and at the age of 15, he invented the 6-dot Braille system which is a code for French alphabets. Even though the Braille code took some time to be accepted, it has completely transformed the world of the visually impaired. Today, Braille is a code used globally as it helps the visually impaired to read. This code is used in various languages such as English, Chinese and Tagalog.
Louis Braille’s work has gone down in history and World Braille Day is celebrated on 4 January each year to commemorate his birth.
If not for Braille’s inability to see, the visually impaired might still be totally reliant on others. The Braille system is now used by them for various reasons including reading published works such as books and newspapers; labels such as those on bathing products; signage such as road signs or places and even tech gadgets such as keyboards and phones. Braille is read by more than 150 million people around the world.
Famous people who are visually impaired
Being visually impaired did not stop these people from being successful and an inspiration to everyone.
Helen Adams Keller (1880 – 1968)
Helen Keller was a world-famous speaker, author, lecturer, political activist and an advocate for people with disabilities. She was also the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. The dramatic story of Keller’s life was told in a film called ‘The Miracle Worker’.
Ray Charles (1930 – 2004)
As an American songwriter, musician and composer, Charles is a pioneer in soul music. He died in 2004 due to liver failure. His musical legacy lives on and he has a star on the Hollywood walk of fame.
Stevie Wonder (1950 – Present)
Songs such as “You’re The Sunshine of My Life” and “Ma Cherie Amour” are some of Wonder’s famous hits. He is not only a musical artist but also a political activist and a father to 7 children. Wonder
has won 22 Grammy Awards and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award as well as many other awards and recognitions.
Andrea Angel Bocelli (1958 – Present)
Multiple award-winning Bocelli released the biggest-selling classical album of all time by a solo artist. He sold 5 million units worldwide and with good reason. Every time he serenades his audience, Bocelli never fails to leave them in awe. He has also set up the Andrea Bocelli Foundation, which strives to help those who are in need due to illness, poverty, disabilities and social exclusion.
Marla Runyan (1969 – Present)
Runyan is an American track and field athlete who is legally blind. She’s a 5-time gold medal winner in the Paralympics Games and also took part in several marathons such as the Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis where she won first place. In 2002, she released an autobiography titled “No finish line: My life as I see it”.
Your Eyes, Your World
While some are born with visual impairment, many others gradually lose their eyesight over the years due to poor eye health. Here are 4 simple tips and precautions that can be incorporated into your daily routine to help maintain healthy eyes.
#1 Wear Shades
Protective eyewear such as sunglasses with ultraviolet (UV) protection is a must. Eye experts recommend that you wear those bought from optical stores to ensure that you obtain good quality shades. Alternatively, if you wear normal spectacles, opt for lenses, which provide UV protection. We are constantly exposed to UV rays — they don’t just come from sunlight but from any source of light such as tech gadgets and bulbs too.
#2 Eat For Good Eyesight
Food choices definitely play a role in eye health. Firstly, try to eat healthy and balanced meals. Secondly, choose foods that are rich in antioxidants. Bright coloured food is the key to this. For example, grapefruit, carrots, salmon, kale and green tea are some of the many choices you can opt to include in your meal.
#3 Eye Exercises
You’re determined to get fit and firm by working out your triceps, biceps and abs but do you exercise you eyes? You definitely don’t need a gym membership for this! All you’ll need is to take some time off your daily routine and just do simple eye exercises for a few minutes. You can start with looking away from your computer or any tech gadget every 20 minutes and while you’re at it, look around from left to right, top to bottom and vice versa while keeping your head still.
#4 Regular Checkups
Regular eye checkups are essential. Visiting an optometrist every 6 months helps to ensure that your eyesight is good and it also determines if any help is needed. Besides that, an optometrist can also detect other health problems such as hypertension and high cholesterol levels, if present.