Light to the blind

Braille is a special medium of communication that connects the visually impaired to the world around them
Light to the blind
French man Louis Braille born on January 4, 1809 lost his vision after an accident at a very young age. However, that couldn’t stop him continuing his studies and his struggle being visually impaired motivated him to invent a system - a crucial medium of communication for blind and partially sighted people at the age of 15.Special arrangement

For last three years now, the world is annually observing International Braille Day in the first week of January. Braille is the basic and the only script for visually impaired students who are unable to read and write normal text books.

Therefore, it is an essential tool to accept it as a medium of communication for low vision and visually challenged people and specifically for the primary level education and to have full realization of their human rights.

Braille is a tangible representation of numerical symbols and alphabets in which numbers and letters are represented by size dots. The dots are used in the depicting musical, scientific, and mathematical symbols.

Research shows about one billion people worldwide, having different type of disabilities, are not able to avail comprehensive benefits of education, health care, employment and hence are prone to neglect, violence, poverty and abuse.

Among all the disabilities, visually impaired children face an extra agony of not being given the needful attention; neither from their care takers nor from the prevailing education system because of the frozen mindsets. The scenario is more grim in J&K than other states of the country where policies are followed to some extent.

With the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities implemented in 2008, over 150 countries have signed the ratification. The declaration has introduced the recognition of persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others worldwide.

Additionally, society is beginning to recognize the need to present equality for all citizens within its communities. Therefore, public spaces continue to present tools and aids for all disabilities. For example, you may see braille in many occupancies including elevators, airplanes, restaurants, bank notes, etc.

Background:

There was a French man Louis Braille born on January 4, 1809 in France. He lost his vision after an accident at a very young age. However, the accident couldn’t stop him continuing his studies and his struggle being visually impaired motivated him to invent a system - a crucial medium of communication for blind and partially sighted people at the age of 15.

In the Braille System of writing and reading, people are required to use their sense of touch to understand the code and proceed with their communication or study. For basic braille writing one needs thick A4 size paper sheet, a specially designed steel slate with six-dot carving and a stylus. With a six-dot system one has to learn and recognise the numbers and alphabets. Then dots with the stylus are made on the thick paper from left-to-right and when a person tilts that paper, dots are recognised by the index finger in right-to-left direction.

“Access to communication in the widest sense is access to knowledge, and that is vitally important for us if we are not to go on being despised or patronized by condescending sighted people. We do not need pity, nor do we need to be reminded that we are vulnerable. We must be treated as equals — and communication is the way we can bring this about.” these are words of Louis Braille. He published his invention in the year 1829 and after a long period, it was finally adopted. Before the existence of Braille system, Hauy system was being used by blind and partially visually impaired people for reading purpose. It involved Latin letters which were stamped on leather or thick paper. This method was very complicated and allowed people only to read, not write. The various cons of Hauy system also encouraged Louis Braille to invent a system with lesser complications. With the inception of the modern technology, and with the invention of text-to-speech technology built-in computers, smartphone and audiobooks helped visually impaired people to access things like texts or website without the need of Braille.

Braille vs Technology

The many accessible technology tools and devices available today seem to confuse some people in terms of what is still needed in order to exist in mainstream society. In order for an individual to enjoy intellectual freedom, personal security, independence, and have equal opportunities to study and work, one must be literate. There is no substitute for the ability to read, and therefore no digital alternative can replace braille completely. To read without braille, a person who is blind is entirely dependent on computers with voice synthesizers or audio recording, neither of which is useful in every circumstance. Braille brings sight to the visually impaired and blind.

The need for teachers

Education department in the UT of J&K should learn a lesson from other states like Delhi, UP, Punjab, and Uttarakhand to take immediate steps for transforming all text books upto secondary level into Braille script and provide Braille training for at least one teacher from all government and private schools in J&K so that mission of “education-to-all” is accomplished.

Learning to read and write can be challenging, and to learn any skill takes time and practice. It requires the support and encouragement of family and teachers. This is true for individuals with or without vision.

Here comes the role of the government and the NGOs working in this field who should shoulder the responsibility of imparting this skill to the persons with blindness at the primary level.

The government of J &K should recruit a braille knowing teacher at the zonal level who can cater to the needs of such children. In addition, the social welfare department along with education department should seriously think about establishing a braille press in the UT so that the books are made available to the primary school children.

Braille is not difficult to learn, especially if the student is young. Therefore, it is never too early to begin teaching someone braille. Learning braille early empowers the individual with more options. Together, let’s keep braille alive and the window to opportunity open for those who are blind or visually impaired.

(Sanya Zehra is visually impaired LLM pass out from Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law (RGNUL) / a licensed Advocate from J&K High Court and pursuing NCPEDP-Javed Abidi fellowship on disability).

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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