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"I will always remember the first book I ever read in braille"

For Sue Marshall from Edinburgh, January 4th marks the anniversary of a man who changed the world for her and many thousands of other people who, like herself, are blind.

Louis Braille (1809-52) was the Frenchman who himself became blind at the age of four and went on to give his name to the system of embossed type used across the world by blind people for reading and writing.

Braille is a code based on 'cells' of six dots, which are arranged in two columns of three. Variations of the six dots represent the letters of the alphabet, punctuation and groups of letters. There are 63 combinations.

For the first time in history, people with sight loss were able to regain a true measure of independence. Braille allowed them to actively engage with the world again, rather than just be passive recipients of information, dependent on others to read to them.

"I will always remember the first book I ever read in braille," says Sue. "It was 'A Town Like Alice' by Neville Shute and I kept reading until I finished it at five in the morning. I've never stopped reading since. Without braille I'd have had to rely on other people."

Sue has had keritecious since childhood, a condition which causes the corneas of the eye to become opaque. "I was partially sighted until the age of 17 then I became totally blind," she says. "I came from a very academic family who were always reading, but I got no pleasure from reading when I had partial sight because I was so slow.

"Then I learnt braille, which saved me from being dependent. I couldn't do without it. That's why I've always been so keen to teach other people. It's second nature to me now.

Sue taught braille as a volunteer with the national sight loss charity RNIB Scotland for many years. "I taught it to adults of all ages, from 19 up to 84. Some people decide to learn braille because they know their sight is deteriorating. Some want to read books; others just read the label on tins. We've also had foreign students who wanted to learn braille in English."

As well as reading books for enjoyment or study, braille users like Sue can also cook a meal from a recipe, work out a maths problem, read music, take medication according to prescription, dial a phone, and play cards or board-games such as Monopoly and Scrabble where there are braille versions available.

Still, there remains concern that braille may be coming to a crossroads, with new technology encroaching further each year. But its champions are adamant it has a future.

Sandra Wilson (74) in Inverness, a former chair of RNIB Scotland, sustained a long career in vocational guidance despite being born blind. To her, braille will always be invaluable. "Braille has always been important to me and I really hope more people will learn it," she says. "Not teaching a child with sight loss braille is equivalent to not teaching a child to read or write.”