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Braille coin bill heads to Bush

The Senate caved July 12 and accepted the House of Representatives? title to the commemorative coin bill honoring the life of Louis Braille. This cleared the bill for forwarding to the White House, where President Bush is expected to sign it into law within the statutory 10 days.

Calling for 400,000 silver dollars to be struck in 2009, the legislation to go to the President must be identical from both houses of Congress, but the Braille bill had a minor identification problem.

On June 29, as the Senate passed S. 811, a bill that would commemorate the bicentennial of the life of Braille, who invented the raised-dot alphabet used by the blind the world over as an alternate means of reading. A similar measure, H.R. 2872, passed the House of Representatives earlier this year.

Under the established rules, both houses of Congress must pass the identical bill, right down to the number; the bills are identical, except for numbering devices. The Senate acceded to using the house bill number.

When the bandwagon started rolling for this measure in the House earlier this year, the Mint and Treasury were taken by surprise (so was the hobby, for that matter), but it kept up its own momentum on its way to becoming law.

Braille was born in a village outside Paris in 1809. He poked his eye out with his father?s leather awl when he was 3. Within days, he was blind in both eyes due to infection. As a young adult, he used an idea coming from French army codes that used raised dots and dashes by modifying it to a pattern of raised dots, created by a blunt awl.

This enables reading by feeling the raised dots ? and the language invented in 1824 has since been named for him. It uses 63 separate possible combinations of two columns consisting of three dots each, which form a distinctive pattern that is recognized by the fingertips of the users.

The Braille Literacy Commemora-tive Coin Act directs the secretary of the Treasury to mint and issue $1 coins emblematic of the life and legacy of Braille, who died in 1852, a citizen of France. Another non-circulating legal-tender coin, the 1900 commemorative silver dollar, commemorates another French citizen, the Marquis de Lafayette, who was a hero of the American Revolution.

Specifically required on obverse is a portrait of Braille. The design on the reverse is to emphasize Braille literacy. For the second time on a U.S. coin, there would also be the name of the honored person in Braille. The other is the Alabama state quarter, which bears Helen Keller?s name in Braille as well as the regular alphabet.

All coin sales are subject to a surcharge of $10 per coin. The beneficiary of the surcharges is the National Federation of the Blind to further its programs to promote Braille literacy.

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