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Friday, January 23, 2009


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Thank you, Kathy and Kristin, for today's perceptive and insightful story. Braille opened not only the world of knowledge but also COMMUNICATION with the outside, seeing world. An incredible and everlasting achievement.

I sometimes wish that people could be awarded a Nobel price posthumously - for their historic achievements for mankind. Louis Braille would certainly be one at the the top of the list. As would, referring to the recent inauguration of Barrack Obama, Rosa Parks. One should have reserved a chair for her next to the president, as alas she could not be there in person any more. One could have honored her bravery in the year of 1955.
Thanks - Laura


When I was in my late 20s I learned to transcribe braille and was certified by the Library of Congress. I haven't brailled anything in years -- it's time-consuming and work took over. I assumed it would now be done with software, not with the kind of braille writer I used to have. But no -- they are still in use:
So perhaps now that I'm retired and have more time, I should take a refresher course.

Peter Lampen

Thanks for the interesting story about Louis Braille. He has recently been honored on French postage stamps celebrating the 200th anniversary of his birth.
As far as my personal experience goes, the French appear to be more advanced in use of braille to identify goods for purchase than we in the US. A good example is the well-known Rhone wine house Chapoutier who adds braille to the labels of his wine bottles. (Sorry to mention a competitor Jean-Marc, but Rouge-Bleu is better anyway.)


I enjoyed the entire post. Now I'm itching to investigate packaging here to see if any companies take the visually impaired into consideration. Thanks!

I love the pottery's door and cat . . .

Julie Schorr

Hi Kristin,
Please tell Max that Jacques Brel was Belgian, not French. Thank you for sharing this wonderful information about Louis Braille. It is a very inspirational story about an amazing life!


I live not very far from the lovely village of Coupvray -- they had an enormous fete for his anniversaire, and La Poste there had a special cancellation of the commemorative timbres issued for the occasion.

It's next on our list of things too see.

tom hamilton

I love these interesting and informative stories

Jules Greer

Kristi Darling,

Your stories just get better and better, loved Kathy's story. Secretly I sometimes wonder what on earth are you going to write about today - and then, I am suprised again.
Isn't it amazing after six years the stories keep coming. FWAD should have a newspaper column. I wish you would look into this, think of the income. I would think it would be great if the French newspapers would sponsor you, the French would love your column and you could improve their English. I know I'm off-subject for your story, I always am, but I just wanted you to know how proud I am of you. I love how your readers support you with their comments and stories. I'm going to give you an award today - 'JULES JEM' - and of course "Kathy" get's a 'JEM' too.

And never to forget our wonderful "NEWFOREST" who is the worlds greatest commentor...I always learn so much from NEWFOREST. I am her biggest fan....




Thank you, Kathi, for your interesting history of Louis Braille. I was happy to see that I share a birthday with him! Now I'm going to find myself searching the packages in my kitchen for Braille. I always thought it curious that they have Braille on the numbers at the drive-thru ATM at the bank....

Kristin, another great photo! I don't know the architectural lingo, but it amazes me to see that single piece of wood over the door holding up all of those stones for God only knows how many years. I picture the hands that fit all of those stones into their places.


Bonjour à tous: Si je me souviens bien, Jacques Brel était belge, pas français.

Kristin Espinasse

Re Jacques Brel: my fault! That's me putting words into Jean-Marc's mouth. Thanks for your help! Off to fix that one...


It gives me some hope that Jackie and Jean-Marc needed to have the word Braille verified by Max. But Max's mp3 file leaves no doubt about the correct pronunciation.
Here in Canada, our current series of bank notes have a tactile feature based on Braille cells.

Now I'm going outside to shovel snow :-)



Thank you Kathy and Kristin for a wonderful FWAD!

Salem Vouras

Thank you Kathi for that informative & inspiring bio! And thank you Kristin too!


Great blog! I use it to refresh my high school French lessons. Thanks to Kathy for the Braille story and photos!


Amazing story, Kathi. Just imagine developing this system at 15 years old. Thank you for sharing and to you, Kristin. The quartier around the Bastille on the Hopital Quinze Vingts side (behind the Opera) has adaptions for the visually impaired ie tweeting traffic signals. Since it's the central eye hospital of Paris it has an independent living center building for sight-impaired, a high rise in back of the courtyard. Residents can have a dog, but must be able to live on their own. Many shop at Marche d'Aligre nearby and it's common to meet them in cafe's.
Local cafe owners and shop keepers keep an eye out for them, protectionwise and it's very special...sorry to go on but I had to research a lot since my character was 'blinded' and had to live there


Another great entry, Kristin! One more interesting word that might fit into today's vocabulary section is "daltonien(ne)," the French term (adjective or noun) for color-blind. Red-green colorblindness is called "daltonisme" (daltonism in English), and they all come from the name of English physicist John Dalton, who studied and described the condition at the end of the 18th century.

Cynthia White

Kathi ;

Thank you for your wonderful history lesson ! I passed this on to my dear French amie who teaches french here in the States so she can share this with her students ! Also, I find it very interesting for myself because I work in eye surgery and I can tell this to the surgeons ! Bravo to you and Kristin !

Merci encore et amities !


what a great story! Years ago I volunteered in the Washington DC area for an organization called Volunteers for the Visually Handicapped. I assisted an amazing non-voyante woman who had her masters in social work and was a counselor at a drug rehab center. She would read her braille notes to me and I would transcribe them for her (unlike the commentor who could read braille, wow Passante!). I also helped her at home with bills and such. She was very independent, living alone with her black lab named Sunday. I was humbled by her and felt honored to help her. Years later, while working as a liaison between a county and the Disability Services Board, I had to oversee a machine at the library that you could put a sheet of regular text on the glass- like a copy machine- and it would produce sheets braille. It was very cool.


Just come back from seeing a Monet exhibition currently running in town. I know everyone says this but the colours and light that shine from his canvases are truly amazing and a humbling experience for this amateur artist to experience. I was struck ( and had a giggle) by one of the comments on the brochure from one of his critics Charles Bigot who said "from a only a few paces away everything he tries to produce disappears: we see no more than a formless ensemble- a series of crude blotches of unpleasant blues, pinks and ochres." I think perhaps Braille is a litle like this to the sighted ones as we do not ( like Charles Bigot) understand the language but for those who can "read" the pattern of dots must open up a new and marvelous world of meaning and images and colour! What an amazing invention from one so young!
PS today is a heatwave of 42 deg celcius and looking forward to a slight cool southerly later tonight...shovelling snow is a great image!

Christine Dashper

Thanks Kathi for the really interesting story. It was great to find out the background on Louis Braille, and to realise what an amazing mind he had and how much drive he must have had to be teaching at 19!

Thanks Kristin, as ever, for always coming up with new and interesting ways to talk about life. You probably know, but L'Occitane products also have Braille on the packaging.

Hello to Gretel in 42degC heat! Somewhere in the Southern Hemishpere?? Yes summer is here, although today is only 25degC but next week 39!!

all the best Chris

Christine Dashper

I just wanted to add, I love reading Jules' response to FWAD. I love your enthusiasm and support for Kristin, Jules. Very inspiring.


Southerly buster has just come through in a huge flurry and swept my 9 week old maltese puppy off her feet from one end of the deck to the other! Watch out Kristin as I think she may end up at your place...wizard of oz style!!

Eve Robillardrobill

Kristin--What a sweet story! I'd forgotten that he was "non-volant" himself! Now I have to check my carte de Paris & see where that rue is! merci, evie

Eve Robillardrobill

K--J'intende, of course "non-voyant." duh, evie


What a great discover this site and to read the fascinating story of Louis Braille. Merci beaucoups, Kathi. Kristen, I recently purchased "Words in a French Life" and am loving it...trying to improve my weak French language skills. Spent September 2008 in Aix-en-Provence chez Madame Monique Faillard...painting and throroughly enjoying French life! C'etait les plus bons temps!

Marianne Rankin

Thank you for the mini-biography of Louis Braille, which was a refresher course of sorts for me.

Years ago when I taught second grade, I read a longer biography, from a children's book club, to the class. Amazingly, after I had read the whole story, almost every child ordered a personal copy from the book club, and eagerly felt the dots of the Braille alphabet on the back cover.


Thank you both for the wonderful stories and continued inspiration!


I can remember 2 piano tuners I met years ago, one in France and one in England, both completely “non-voyants”, both with an amazing musical talent. I used to know an old lady who had become “malvoyante” (partially sighted) when she was in her forties. She started to learn braille a few years later. She used to say she was 'privileged', because she could remember vividly colours, seasons, birds, waves, patterns... So hard for me to imagine such a life.

Looking at the photo at the top of this newsletter, how could a “non-voyant” have any idea about the various shapes I can 'see' among the shadows on the right handside of the gate?... How could I easily describe them to a blind person?

Thank you Katie for telling us about Louis Braille. His fantastic achievements for the “non-voyants” expanded their restricted life, helped them to acquire knowledge, education, independance... The braille system is still alive today!
I knew about the story of Louis Braille but this article refreshed my memory and made me feel curious... I found this website worthwhile exploring:
There is an interesting article about Anne Sullivan and the role she played in the extraordinary life of the deaf-blind woman, Helen Keller.

By the way, among the famous blind musicians, I have a preference for the romantic voice of the Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli. Only a few extracts here:


and more of Andrea Bocelli here

Dean Showers

Kathi, you story is terrific! And thanks for the food fotos.
dean showers

Margaret Roberts

Thank you for your well written and interesting story on Braille! I never thought about the fact that he was french. Now how about equal time for the hearing impaired and how our American sign language was derived from the french sign language and the importance of Gaulladet.

Alice Halliday

Hi Kathi, our Vietnamese piano tuner is blind. He was a bomb victim of flash bombs used in Vietnam. He is married to a Japanese girl and they now have 3 children.

Would love to hear what out of the way places you might be going to on your trip as I might get down to south of France this year to visit my elderly ex French teacher who lives in Rousillon town.

Just by the by, Kristin, your Mother Jules, is wonderful! She always writes she most championing emails and is your biggest supporter. Who/what is Newforest?

Alice Halliday


VERY interesting. I enjoyed the story!. Larry


I know the L'Occitane products are all packaged with Braille type. Can't think of many others.

Great story and thank you for the pronunciation leçon!

Herm in Phoenix, AZ

Thank you, Kathi, for information on Braille. Je n'avais aucune idée (I had no idea).

Willie Nelson, the country western singer, likes to tell the story about playing cards with blind entertainer Ray Charles. It seems that after Willie kept winning, Ray demanded they turn the lights out!

À bientôt

Herm in Phoenix, AZ

I was emotionally moved by this powerful video!!!!

Kathryn Winslow

Welcome back Newforest! Your perspicacious comments were greatly missed.

A foggy 60 degrees in San Antonio TX...

Elaine Wilson

Kathi, Thanks for your article on Louis Braille. My Mother was "legally blind" from the effects of diabetes and attended the Braille Institute in Los Angeles where she attended classes, painted, and created wonderful sculpture. Viva Braille!!! (a bit of Spanish!!)

Susan A.

Thanks for such an informative and interesting piece. I knew a little about Louis Braille but not the fascinating details of his life and work. It's great to have this knowledge expandec.

mhwebb in NM, USA

I am impressed that Passant learned to transcribe Braille with a mechanical Brailler! When I worked with students with various disabilities at a community college, I had a student whose first language was not English. He took English classes in the morning for which he had a notetaker (an employee that took written notes in class for him). I read her notes to him in the afternoon while he used a mechanical Brailler to transcribe them with his one good hand! I tried to learn Braille at that time but found it challenging. Although I had health problems at that time, including severe pain, I learned not to complain because I saw severely disabled students at school every day.

I also learned that the complete absence of vision is quite rare. Most "blind" people have some bit of vision, such as being able to see tall, fuzzy images walking toward them, or being able to see out of a portion of their eyes. That is why I adopted the habit of wearing bright colors on my top half so that people can see me coming. Among professionals here, the term "blind" is discouraged while "visually impaired" is preferred (or was while I worked in that field).

Thank you, Kristin and Kathi, for the refresher course on Braille. Thank you, Max, for your alertness about the sugar box. Every time I see Braille near elevator buttons or below signs, I wonder how the totally blind know where to "look" for them.

Since I used to have a visual impairment that was corrected by surgery, I want to thank Jules for not writing in all caps. It is actually easier for me to read the mixture of caps and lower case, although I am not sure why. I enjoy her comments and appreciate being able to read them. Thank you.

Kate S

Love the story regarding the Braille. I once helped a blind student down the escalator.. i got in trouble with the teacher. I did not know they were learning to fend for themselves in the mall.. so i grab her arm and said" here we go" and took her down the short flight. As we rode along she said"I'm in trouble now.. but Thanks!!As we stepped off.. the teacher glared at me and took her away. I least she was not still stuck at the top.. scared to death. Think how scary that must be.
I did notice the small dots on a number of items. It makes you think and appreciate your vision. Thanks for the story. Your children really pay attention.

D Dufour  2308 Broadway St. Abbotsford, B.C.  V2T 3G5

Quel merveileux post! Merci Kristen et Kathi!

Ici, il ne fait pas beau. Nous avons de la neige.

Me, I'm feeding the birds and making soup. And wishing for rain.

Dorothy, in Abbotsford B.C.

Amanda Frost

A very interesting issue with interesting posts.

May I kindly suggest that you get a proofreader. There are a number of misspellings (privilege, occurred) and some odd use of punctuation.

Debbie Ambrous

I'm glad to see there's no shortage of comments on this educational and enjoyable story. Thank you!
Coconut Grove, Florida
Friday night Pizza and a movie for me.

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