The votes have been tallied and the people have spoken: the Braille Alphabet Bracelet is the winner of the 2010 People’s Design Award. The Cooper-Hewitt’s annual crowd-sourced honor was presented to designer Leslie Ligon by White House Deputy Social Secretary Ebs Burnough and fashion designer Cynthia Rowley at last week’s National Design Awards gala in New York City. The bracelet, which retails for $47.50, features the entire alphabet in Braille on one side and the corresponding print on the reverse. “I’m delighted that the public has chosen to honor the Braille Alphabet Bracelet, which looks good, communicates without a glance, and feels great too!” said Cooper-Hewitt director Bill Moggridge.
Ligon, whose oldest son is blind, is the founder of At First Sight Braille Jewelry. In 2001, as her son began to learn Braille, she set out to apply her jewelry-making skills to create “something that seamlessly combined the aesthetics of design and the functionality of Braille, so that people would be as interested in and attracted to it as they are to jewelry or fabrics with Asian characters or 18th-century French script,” writes Ligon on her website. “I wanted to offer pieces anyone would want to wear.” A percentage of the company’s profits are donated to Braille literacy organizations, including National Braille Press and BrailleInk.
“Daunted initially by learning Braille, we were equally daunted by the aspect that nearly ninety percent of the [visually impaired] population was functionally illiterate,” said Ligon in her acceptance speech. According to the American Foundation for the Blind, as few as 10 percent of people who are legally blind learn to read and write Braille, and several studies indicate that at least 90 percent of the blind that hold jobs are Braille literate. “Braille and white canes are huge visual stigma, if you choose to look at them that way, but they’re also representative of independence and what it means to really fly.” In closing, Ligon left the crowd with some design advice. “I think this is really just about the top dog in statues for awards,” she said, clutching her Winterhouse-designed swirly asterisk trophy. “But I think it needs a little Braille.” She proceeded to roll an elasticated Braille alphabet bracelet over the top. “No offense,” added Ligon.