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Beyond Ink: Celebrating World Braille Day

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  05-Jan-2024 | Maitri Singh



World Braille Day is celebrated every year on 4th January to raise awareness about the importance of braille in communication for individuals who are blind or partially sighted. In November 2018, the UN General Assembly officially proclaimed January 4 as World Braille Day and the following year, the first-ever World Braille Day was celebrated and recognized as a global holiday. The day honors the birth anniversary of Louis Braille, who invented braille- ‘tactile phonetic alphabet system’ that involves reading and writing via touching raised dots.

History

Braille was invented by Louis Braille, a blind teacher in the early 1800s. After an injury during his childhood, Louis Braille lost his eyesight. Later, he attended the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris, where he was introduced to a system of reading and writing called ‘Night Writing’ developed by Captain Charles Barbier, a French military officer. This system used a series of raised dots and dashes to represent words and letters and was used by soldiers to communicate at night.

For many years, Louis worked on Barbier’s system and tried to simplify and adapt it for his own use. He eventually created a system that used a 6-dot cell to represent each letter of the alphabet and multiple punctuation marks. As Louis’s version was simpler to use, it immediately became popular in the institute.

After Louis published his book describing his system in 1829, many schools in Europe began adopting it including the Missouri School for the Blind which was the first school to adopt ‘the braille system’ in 1860. Due to its popularity and simplicity it soon became one of the major literacy mediums for people who are blind or visually impaired.

What is Braille?

Braille consists of a series of raised dots where letters, symbols, or contractions are formed within a “cell” of six possible raised dots, two columns wide by three rows tall.

Forms of Braille: Uncontracted and Contracted Braille

There are two major forms of braille – uncontracted braille also known as alphabetic braille or Grade 1 braille, and contracted braille which is also referred to as standard braille or Grade 2 braille.

While uncontracted braille consists of the letters a through z and punctuation, contracted braille is a more complicated form of shorthand. For instance, instead of spelling out each letter of a common word, contracted braille may use a specific combination of dots to represent that word in a shorter form, hence saving time by reducing the number of cells needed to convey a particular piece of information.

This means contracted braille requires more expertise than uncontacted braille.

Disability, Literacy and Society

In 2003, the United Nations announced that literacy is a fundamental human right, and coined the slogan "Literacy as Freedom'', thus highlighting the role literacy plays in emancipating individuals from ignorance, inaccessibility, incapacity, and exclusion, and further enabling them to have better quality of life. Literacy not only helps people in understanding spoken words but also empowers people to actively participate in communication, sciences, mathematics, and more which benefits the individual and society at large. However, when businesses and organizations fail to provide literacy in an accessible format to people with disabilities, they create an environment and society that is not only inaccessible for many but also thrives on exclusion.

In this context, Critical Disability Theory (CDT) attempts to offer insight into various models of disability theory and challenges the conventional notions associated with disability and normative bodily concepts by taking a human rights perspective. CDT also delves into the social model of disability, which believes that disability is a societal construct rooted in the society itself. As societal structures are created by and for persons without disabilities, those who do not fit to this structure are disabled.

The Present Scenario

About 90% of the world's visually impaired and blind population lives in developing countries. This issue becomes more grave in the Indian scenario, as India is home to the largest blind population in the world with an estimated number of 4.95 million blind people along with 70 million having vision-impairment. However, while 77.7% of non-disabled persons in India are literate, only 1% of the visually impaired and blind population has access to braille literacy.

From inadequate pedagogy, insufficient staff, overburdened special educators, to lack of braille training, everything has contributed to this glaring gap and inaccessibility. As recent innovations are short lived, and the rates of braille books are increasing, students often rely on audio books which are at times voluminous and unsatisfactory. Due to this, visually impaired and blind people often find themselves choosing careers from traditional disciplines instead of exploring other professional options, leading to systematic inequality.

Conclusion

It is undeniably clear that there exists an urgent need both on a national and global scale, to bridge this glaring gap of inequality. The answer lies in crafting a comprehensive, effective, and consistent plan of action by the stakeholders and society at large. Beyond being a practical tool, Braille is also a personal and political form of expression that profoundly matters. Thus, world braille day serves as a poignant reminder of the significance of equal human rights, accessibility and freedom for all, including persons who are blind or visually impaired.

References:

https://ies.ed.gov/blogs/research/post/world-braille-day-research-on-teaching-braille-to-students-with-visual-impairments

https://brailleworks.com/inequality-in-literacy-for-people-with-visual-disabilities/

https://www.asiancollegeofteachers.com/blogs/1348-Why-Braille-Education-Is-So-Important-in-India-for-the-Visually-Impaired-Students-blog.php#:~:text=India%2D%20the%20second%20most%20crowded,regular%20literacy%20rate%20of%2077.7%25.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/363173220_LITERACY_RATE_IN_INDIA_IN_2022