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Notre Dame symposium to celebrate Louis Braille's 200th birthday

Author: Arts and Letters


Along with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, the bicentenary of another member of 1809’s pantheon of genius, the French inventor Louis Braille, falls this year.

Braille, whose eponymous orthographical system of embossed dots has been adapted to nearly every known language and is used for reading and writing by blind and visually impaired people worldwide, was born Jan. 6, 1809, in Coupvray, France. Blinded in an accident when he was 3 years old, he had all but perfected the revolutionary system by the time he turned 15.

The University of Notre Dame’s Disability Studies Forum will host a daylong symposium in honor of the bicentenary on March 6 (Friday) in McKenna Hall.

“Blindness: A Symposium” is free and open to the public and will convene speakers from academic, business and technological backgrounds to discuss cultural and technological aspects of blindness and partial sight. In addition to their presentations and discussions, there will be a technology fair featuring products and services of special interest to blind and partially sighted people.

“The symposium is about blind people and is inclusive of blind people,” said Essaka Joshua, professional specialist in Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters. “It’s intended to be a forum through which our blind and sighted students can meet and develop a wider awareness of blindness issues. Blind and sighted Notre Dame students will be taking part in a discussion on the major issues that affect blind people today.”

The keynote speech for the symposium will be given by 1974 Notre Dame alumnus Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, at 10:45 a.m. in the McKenna Hall auditorium.

Representing the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration at the symposium will be Peter A. Bisbecos, director of the Division of Disability and Rehabilitative Services (DDRS); P. Michael Hedden, director of the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services; and Greg Jinks, director of DDRS Business Operations. Dr. Frederic Schroeder, first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind, also will be in attendance.

Other participants in the symposium will include Edward Wheatley, Surtz Professor of Medieval Literature at Loyola University, speaking on “Stumbling Blocks Before the Blind: Constructions of a Disability in Medieval England and France”; Georg Bodammer, venture manager for Siemens in Munich, Germany, speaking on “A Prototype Congnitive Ais System for the Blind and Partially Sighted”; Joshua, speaking on “Blind Vacancy: Sighted Culture and Voyeuristic Historiography in Mary Shelley’s `Frankenstein’”; and Paul Down, associate professor of art, art history and design at Notre Dame, speaking on “Finding Independence Through Low-Tech Design.”

Contact: Essaka Joshua at 574-631-7120 or

Originally published by Michael O. Garvey at on February 19, 2009.