Dr. Nitin Kumar
The World Braille Day is celebrated on the 4th of January every year to remember and pay respects to the creator of the Braille system, Louis Braille. The Braille system for teaching the blind has been in place for almost 400 years now. The system has not been replaced by any one the advances in technology, highlighting, the accessibility, importance and love the blind have for the system. The visually impaired have been long known to suffer marginalisation, because of the inability to acquire knowledge. The system of teaching and writing for the blind introduced by Louis Braille opened the gates of knowledge for these individuals and filled their lives with light and hope.
Who was Louis Braille?
Louis Braille was born to Simon Rene Braille, the village cobbler, and Monique baron in a remote village, Coupvray, in France in the year 1809. Louis was a bright and curious child; he used to visit his father’s workshop and play with his tools.One fateful day, the child got hit in his right eye with a sharp-edged-tool and developed an infection. The family was greatly distressed and devastated by the condition of their youngest child. The condition of Louis got worsened as his left eye also got inflamed due to a rare form of ocular disease, sympatheticophthalmia, and he lost his left eye also. By the age of five, the child was completely blind. The family though devastated, was motivated that the child gets an education. Louis also loved to read and wanted to excel in studies. His father became his first teacher and used to put upholstery nails in wood in the form of words, and Louis used to feel the tips of the nails to read these words. At the age of 10, Louis was admitted to a school for the blind at Paris. The child felt homesick, as he had never left his village before. The life of a boarding school and the poor sanitary conditions at the school were taking a toll on the mental health of Louis Braille. The young child kept his composure and worked tirelessly for the creation of a universal code for the blind. By the tender age of 15, taking a lead from his teachers, the young boy had come up with a system to teach the people with low vision. He tested the alphabet with the help of his peers at the blind school. In the year 1829, Louis Braille published his work titled “System of Writing Words, Music and Plain-Chant for the Use of the Blind”. The braille system could help the blind, read, write, learn music, science and mathematics in an easy and better way as compared to the previous systems. The system was appreciated by his peers and students but Louis Braille was not much recognised for his contribution by the authorities at the blind school. Louis was a kind- hearted and generous person, according to the literature, he once gave up his own job to get his student employed at a church. Louis loved music and used to perform at the church. The unsanitary conditions at the blind school had taken a toll on his health, he contracted tuberculosis and died of the same disease in the year 1852, at a young age of 43. In the year 1854, two years after his death, the blind school where he entered as a student and later worked as a teacher, recognised his alphabet, and officially started teaching it to the students. The international recognition came to Thedistinguished Blind man, in the centennial year, 1952, when his remains were re-interred to the Pantheon at Paris besides the greatest people of the French state. The walk to the pantheon was attended by the then President of France, Vincent Auriol alongside the greatest advocate of the rights for visually disabled, Hellen Keller. The birthplace of Louis Braille was also converted to a national Museum, by the French government.
What is Braille?
The Braille system is a tactile- code, an alphabet, for the blind. The raised dots on paper can be felt by the tip of the fingers and used to learn and write various languages. Braille is available in all the major languages of the world. A braille cell consists of six raised dots arranged in two parallel lines. The blind can learn literature,science and mathematics using this alphabet.
Why is the Braille Day celebrated?
The Braille Daywas first celebrated in year 2019. The United Nations and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have observed that the visually impaired and the blind are at an increased risk of poverty and marginalisation. The day reminds us about the challenges, the blind and the visually impaired face in their life. There is a need to impress upon their special needs and highlighting the role braille system plays in their literacy. The need to make braille available globally, to all who need it. To, achieve the promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development proposed by UNESCO the braille literacy must be advocated as a fundamental human right. The WHO has highlighted that about one billion people, worldwide are blind or has some form of visual impairment. Keeping into the account of the gravity of the situation, it is of paramount importance to pay attention to this vulnerable group and its special needs. The world Braille Day emphasises that this group should be motivated to learn Braille and alternate modes of learning. Also, the ophthalmologists, all of whom aim to reduce the burden of blindness and visual impairment, should counsel, and motivate patients to learn Braille and achieve excellence in academics and life.
Advances in technology for the Blind:
The first electronic Braille display was invented in the year 1982. The system can display 10-80 cells in a linear manner; however, the cost of the systems is a factor limiting for its wider use. The machines like electronic note-takers for the blind have also been developed. Digital audio books, computer screen readers, voice-recognition software and digital libraries are a boon for the people with low vision. Projects like Holy Braille being developed by the university of Michigan are going to make significant changes in the lives of the visually impaired individuals. These technologies are helping the blind to pursue higher education and become self-dependent. The true literacy still is considered when an individual can write, and the Braille is the system giving this opportunity to the visually impaired.
Information about the institutes for the blind:
The national Institute for the empowerment of persons with visual disabilities (NIEPVD), is a premier institute under the control of the ministry of social justice and empowerment, Government of India. The institute is located at Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India. The institute promotes, the rights and dignity of the persons with visual impairment. TheInstitute, houses the National Braille press, which publishes various books including those for elementary schools and advanced studies. NIEPVD is also the largest producer of braille literature and talking books in the whole country. The Institute is dedicated for the development of manpower to provide quality education, training, and vocational empowerment to the people with visual disabilities. The CompositeCentre, Srinagar, is the regional center for the visually impaired in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir.
(The author is an Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at AIIMS, Jammu).
Dr. Nitin Kumar