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Braille coin bill surprises some

Action taken Feb. 28 by the U.S. House of Representatives took the Mint and Treasury by surprise, approving a coin honoring the 200th anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille, whose invention of a raised-dot alphabet enables the blind and sight-impaired to easily read.

The House passed H.R. 2872, which calls for a 2009 issue of up to 400,000 silver dollars.

Born near Paris in 1809, Louis Braille poked his eye out with his father?s leather awl at age 3; infection set in and within days he was blind in both eyes. 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. Braille uses 63 separate possible combinations of two columns consisting of three dots each that form a distinctive pattern that is recognized by users? fingertips.

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 Louis Braille.

The bill requires that the obverse design bear a representation of Louis Braille and the reverse design emphasize Braille literacy. The only other U.S. coin with Braille  is the Alabama state quarter, which bears Helen Keller?s name in English and Braille.

All coins sold 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.

Before the measure becomes law, Senate approval and signature by the President is required.

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