ĄThe Otsuki Prize for First Place
Braille in My Life
By Mr. Le Hong Thuy
(75 years old, Vietnam)

I became blind in 1969 when I was 39 years old. It was fortunate for me that I already had a fairly good education, especially in the foreign languages of French and English. Moreover, I also had about 19 years of working experience which had enabled me to gain some professional expertise. So I decided that I should keep up my spirits instead of going into retirement, resignation and isolation; I did not want to allow the expertise I had gained and my knowledge of foreign languages to become useless and wasted.

By a stroke of good luck, the Vietnam Blind Association happened to be established in the same year that my blindness occurred. In spite of its new beginnings and many difficulties, the association had already started giving support to blind persons who wanted to learn Braille. I was one of those who registered and I was given the Vietnamese Braille alphabet, a board and a Braille pen with instructions so that I could study at home.

I spent days and nights studying passionately and my fondness for Braille grew; thus, I was able to learn by heart all the Braille signs within a few months. Then, in order to improve my Braille skills, I requested for Braille books from the association. Despite the scarcity of Braille books at the time, the association was able to lend me a book on the personal life and career of Louis Braille which was written by a blind author named Pierre Henri and published in 1952 by the French Blind Association, Valentinhagy.

To my surprise, I discovered that the book was in French Braille and it was 600 pages thick. However, as I was determined to read the book, I took great pains to learn the principles governing the 1,000 signs and abbreviations of the alphabet. Gradually, I got used to the system and, with the help of documents from the association, I was able to familiarise myself with the rules. Thus, I was both reading and learning at the same time. By the time I came to the last page of the book, I found that I had made tremendous progress in my French Braille skills.

In addition, the book furnished me with very useful knowledge regarding the establishment and development of Braille -- why Braille had to be made up of dots; the psychology, abilities, hopes and demands of the blind; and the forms of assistance available to the blind. I felt greatly inspired to translate the book into Vietnamese as I knew that me and my friends would need to be equipped with such knowledge and skills if we were to find meaning and be productive in our new lives as blind people.

At the time, I did not know that there was such a thing as Braille paper. So I put normal printed paper together till it was thick enough for brailling. After many months, I managed to complete translating the book into Vietnamese and to put it into Braille with my slate and stylus. The book in Vietnamese Braille was 1,000 pages thick. It brought me great joy as I delivered the book to the Vietnam Blind Association. Some of the articles in the book were published in the newspapers.

Since then, Braille has become a fellow traveller, a close friend, and a useful indispensable tool in my daiily life. Braille opened up a vast field of knowledge for me, it broadened my understanding of life, it enabled me to take note of important things, and it helped me to communicate with other people through Braille letters.

In 1972, I was elected as the Chairman of the Hanoi Blind Association. Later, I was elected as the Vice President-cum-General Secretary of the Vietnam Blind Association from 1988 to 1997. Braille was a great help to me in developing programmes and action plans, writing letters and reports, monitoring the loan and production schemes, managing the finances, and producing many articles for the newspaper of the association.

In those days, the computer was not yet popular; even Braille typewriters were scarce and there were no Braille printing workshops anywhere. However, my ability to translate from Braille to print and vice versa enabled me to be effective in my work and in teaching my students. I also translated many Braille books from French into Vietnamese for the library as well as articles from the Louis Braille Magazine sent by the Vietnam-French Friendship Association since the 1980's for the reference of our members.

In 1992, when I attended the three-day conference of the World Blind Union in Egypt, I was introduced to the Braille Monitor, a monthly magazine of the National Federation of the Blind of America. As it was in English, I had to spend much time and effort studying the principles, structure and signs. My struggle paid off as I realised that English was the most common language in the world and many books, magazines and newspapers were published in that language. It also enabled me to read the reports and conference papers of the World Blind Union.

Thus, after retiring from the Vietnam Blind Association, I could still spend my leisure time usefully by continuing to translate and produce Braille books for the association.

Indeed, Braille has taken away my sadness and isolation and has brought me much happiness, information, understanding and a productive life. Now, in my old age and with the additional disability of deafness, Braille is becoming more and more valuable to me as a reliable source of information.

I must express my heartfelt appreciation to Louis JBraille for having invented the Braille alphabet. My thanks also go to the Vietnam Blind Association for having brought Braille to my life and to Valentinhagy of France and the National Federation of the Blind of the U.S.A. for their informative Braille magazines. They have all helped me to make great strides in improving my own life and in empowering me to help other blind people to enjoy the same benefits as myself.

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