By Ella Larina
International World Braille Day is celebrated yearly in recognition of the birth of Louis Braille, born on January 4th, 1809. World Braille Day was created in 2019 by the United Nations General Assembly and serves as the commencement event for Braille Literacy Month, an event throughout January that aims to raise awareness about the importance of braille and braille literacy.
World Braille Day is a reminder of the importance of accessibility and independence for people who are blind or visually impaired. Today’s reality is that many establishments such as restaurants, banks, and hospitals don’t offer braille versions of their print materials like menus, statements, and bills. Because of this, people with blindness or visual impairments often don’t have the freedom to choose a meal on their own or keep their finances private.
This day spreads awareness about braille and other accessible forms of communication. Everyone deserves (and is legally entitled to) the same accommodations and service, regardless of ability. Let’s remember that and do our part to make our workplaces more accessible for everyone.
Even under normal circumstances, persons with disabilities – one billion people worldwide – are less likely to access health care, education, employment and to participate in the community. They are more likely to live in poverty, experience higher rates of violence, neglect and abuse, and are among the most marginalized in any crisis-affected community.
For the visually impaired, life under lockdown has posed several issues in terms of independence and isolation, especially for people who rely on the use of touch to communicate their needs and access information. The pandemic has revealed how critically important it is to produce essential information in accessible formats, including in Braille and audible formats. Otherwise, many persons with disabilities could face a higher risk of contamination due to a lack of access of guidelines and precautions to protect and reduce the spreading of a pandemic. COVID-19 has also emphasized the need to intensify all activities related to digital accessibility to ensure digital inclusion of all people.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many good practices have been implemented by parts of the United Nations system to promote a disability-inclusive response to the COVID-19 and disseminate information in Braille.
In Malawi, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has produced 4,050 braille materials on awareness and prevention of COVID-19. In Ethiopia, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) disseminated audio information, and education and communication materials, to media professionals, and has developed Braille versions of the educational messages.
UNICEF has produced guidance notes that are available in multiple languages and accessible formats (including Braille and ‘easy-to-read’). ‘COVID-19: Considerations for Children and Adults with Disabilities’ addresses such issues as access to information; water, sanitation and hygiene; health care; education; child protection; and mental health and psychosocial support, as well as considerations for an inclusive workplace.
World Braille Day, celebrated since 2019, is observed to raise awareness of the importance of Braille as a means of communication in the full realization of the human rights for blind and partially sighted people.
Braille literacy is also an important factor in equal opportunities for people with blindness. You can learn more about how literacy inequality affects those with a visual disability in our blog, Inequality in Literacy for People with Visual Disabilities.
Unfortunately, Louis Braille didn’t get to see just how helpful his invention became. He died in 1852; two years before his alma mater, France’s Royal Institute for the Blind Youth, adopted a braille curriculum. By 1916, schools around the United States taught braille to their students with blindness.
Six facts about Braille
- Braille is used in nearly every country in the world, and there is a braille code for almost every language.
- The inventor of braille has an interesting story. At the age of 3, Louis Braille punctured his eye with an awl, or leather embosser, leading to a severe infection that eventually caused him to lose his vision in both eyes. Ironically, an awl is similar to the stylus, a tool used today to emboss braille by hand.
- Braille can be typed in many different ways. It can be embossed with a slate and styles, which is largely considered as braille handwriting, or it can be printed with the use of a braille typewriter.
- Castle Sant’Elmo, a popular tourist attraction, not only offers a sweeping view of the Italian city of Napoli from the top. The fortress is home to an art installation by Paolo Puddu titled “Follow the Shape”, a handrail embossed in braille which includes a poetic description of the view. An image of this installation was used as the photo for this blog.
- In recent years, more toys have become available in braille including a Rubik’s Cube, the popular card game UNO, and LEGOs.
- The braille typewriter is different from a typical typewriter. Braillers have six keys correlating to each of the six dots in the braille cell as well as a space key, an enter button, and a backspace.