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Young People … Our Greatest Resource

Turning Disability into Destiny

TURNING DISABILITY INTO DESTINY: Early in my career as a school psychologist, I met a man who had no arms from the elbows down. As I recall, his name was Bob. As an electrician, he was involved in an accident that left him permanently disabled.

Bob eventually became the CEO of a very large nonprofit organization dedicated to putting physically disabled folks back into the workplace. When Bob spoke, people listened. His influence and his service to thousands was beyond measure.

Here’s another story. It’s different, yet it’s really the same. –JDS


Young Louis loved to tinker with the tools in the leather shop. His father, a master leather smith, had a strong reputation across the French countryside as a maker of the finest horse tack.

One day, Louis was attempting to punch through a piece of tough leather with an awl, a sharply pointed tool. The awl slipped and struck Louis in the eye. The wound became infected, then the infection spread to his other eye, also. The boy quickly became totally blind.

He was sent to a school for the blind in Paris. It didn’t take long for his teacher to discover that Louis was quite bright. Although Louis enjoyed learning, he became frustrated with the method used for teaching blind students to read. Heavy sheets of wet paper were placed over wire or wooden cutouts of letters. When the paper dried, students could read the words by feeling the raised parts of the paper.

Louis didn’t like this system much. It worked, but it was slow and cumbersome. Books made in this fashion were huge, heavy and hard to handle. And they were expensive to make. Besides, they accounted for reading only. Trying to write using this system was next to impossible.

As a young teen struggling to come up with a better way for blind classmates and himself to read and write, Louis heard about a system of night writing that had been developed by a French army captain. It was an alphabetical arrangement of raised dots and dashes pressed into paper. With it, military communication was possible even in total darkness.

Louis liked the idea of night writing, but felt that it, also, was too cumbersome to be practical for the blind. So, armed with the very same awl that had blinded him, Louis set out to improve on the captain’s system. He needed to come up with something that was simple, functional, and easy to use in both reading and writing.

He developed an alphabet consisting of two narrow columns of up to three raised dots each. These one to six dots in the columns represented a specific letter. Best of all, it could be read instantly with a single touch.

His improved system of reading and writing for the blind gained support by the time Louis was fifteen years old. It seemed paradoxical that the same leather worker’s tool that had blinded him played such a role in the ultimate education, literacy and independence of many millions of sight-challenged individuals. His work carries his name to this day.

That fifteen year old boy was Louis Braille (1809-1852).

James D. Sutton, EdD, CSP
Consulting Psychologist/Certified Speaking Professional
PO Box 672, Pleasanton, TX 78064

April 14, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment