National Braille Week

January 24, 2012 by staff 

National Braille Week, When a young Frenchman named Louie Braille was first introduced to the idea of using a coded system of raised dots for reading and writing in 1821, he couldn’t possibly have predicted the massive impact his revolutionary system would have on the lives of so many blind and partially sighted people.

This week celebrates National Braille Week (4-11th January) and is a perfect opportunity to reflect on what a life changing invention braille was and still is. Comparable to the invention of the printed press for sighted people, it is no understatement to say that braille has bought knowledge, independence and freedom to the thousands of people across the world who use it.

Around 18,000 people in the UK use Louis Braille’s revolutionary code of six dots to help them read, write and carry-out everyday tasks.

It’s not just about reading books. Think about how you would select a music CD, read music, tell the difference between aspirin and paracetamol, take notes at a lecture or read food labels? How about reading bank statements? RNIB research shows that 64 per cent of the general public would feel ‘uncomfortable’ if they had to rely on a neighbour to read out their bank statements, but for many blind and partially sighted people they would not have a choice, if they were not able to get bank statements in braille.

Does braille still have a place in this age of technology? The short answer is yes. There is of course much debate as to whether braille could be replaced by new technology such as screen and print reading devices, which convert text into spoken words, but currently new technology is actually helping to move braille forward and open up new opportunities for users.

Technological developments have made braille far more usable for blind people. Apart from making it easier to convert text to braille, it also makes braille far more portable. A whole braille book can now be stored on a small disk or memory stick, rather than taking up reams of paper and shelves of storage space.

Future developments are set to be even more exciting, for example a team of US researchers have devised a way for blind and partially sighted computer users to use the touchscreen of a tablet such as an iPad as a braille keyboard. Users can type directly onto a flat glass screen, where the buttons actually find the fingers. The impact of technology such as this would be massive.

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