World Braille Day

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Today marks World Braille Day which is an international day on 4 January that celebrates and seeks to raise awareness of the importance of braille as a means of communication for blind and visually impaired people people. The date for the event was chosen by the United Nations in November 2018, and marks the birthday of Louie Braille, the creator of this writing system. The first World Braille Day was celebrated on January 4, 2019 but has quickly become a day where people around the world highlight the importance of Braille and how even with today’s technology it still has a place in the world of people affected by sight loss.

Braille is a tactile writing system used by people who are visually impaired, including people who are blind, deafblind or who have low vision. It can be read either on embossed paper or by using refreshable braille displays that connect to computers and smartphone devices

There are 63 dot patterns or characters are in Braille system. Braille consists of patterns of raised arranged in cells of up to six dots in a 3×2 configuration. Each cell represents a braille letter, numeral or punctuation mark. Some frequently used words and letter combinations also have their own single cell patterns.

Braille is named after its creator, Louis Braille a Frenchman who lost his sight as a result of a childhood accident. In 1824, at the age of fifteen, he developed the braille code based on the French alphabet as an improvement on night writing.  He published his system in 1829. The second version was  published in 1837 and was the first binary form of writing developed in the modern era.

There is some debate as to whether braille will eventually be replaced by new technology such as screen readers and print reading devices, which convert text into spoken words.

But Braille offers its readers and writers the direct connection to language with “seeing” words with their fingers. The autonomy that Braille offers means a visually impaired person doesn’t need to rely on technology for their everyday routines. Technology can break, it’s often expensive and slow to repair. It is critical to think about the position we place individuals in when they don’t have access to Braille skills in this place.

Although the numbers of people who use Braille are dwindling, there’s no denying the impact its use has had on our history.

In the U.K. the RNIB (Royal National Institute of the Blind) which is the oldest and leading organisation for the blind and visually impaired has its roots deeply set in the history of Braille. It’s founder Thomas Armitage brought braille into the U.K. education system which allowed the huge literacy gap between the blind and sighted communities to be bridged.

I’ll leave you with a piece of poetry I wrote a few years ago to celebrate RNIB’s 150 year anniversary and the importance of Braille.

The year was 1868 when Thomas Armitage decided he would give some back for his life of privilege

To help those just like you and me who’s vision may be lost discover worlds in literature through words in print embossed

A dream these books and papers would fill their lives with joy

Do more than cope instil a hope

With new found skill employ

And so to found a system a new society

That could not fail with Louie’s Braille no longer you but we

From humblest of beginnings this family grew and grew

Supporting people near and far like him and her and you

With Royal seal the love we feel there’s no more need for fears

Pick up the phone you’re not alone 150 years

So raise a glass let’s celebrate despite what we can’t see There’s many things to come from the fantastic RNIB