Press Release from the World Blind Union

Braille – the Key to Accessing Language and Literacy for the Blind of the World

As we commemorate Mother Language Day on February 21st , it is important to reflect on the importance of braille to ensuring that blind persons have the opportunity to acquire and use their mother language – whatever that language may be. Braille has been called a super script, “The queen of all scripts”. For, it is the only script in the world in which any language of the world can be read or written. No other script has this unique capacity. So indeed it is only Braille that has the ability to enable blind persons to truly master their mother language.

It would be no exaggeration to state that Braille occupies the same status in reading and writing for the blind as print for the sighted. Just as recorded books or e-books cannot replace hard copy books for the sighted, similarly, books in Braille are integral components of meaningful education and rehabilitation for blind persons. That is why, Braille has stood the test of time and competition from various quarters for about 160 years, since its acceptance by the French in 1854, two years after the death of its inventor, Louis Braille, for whom the script is named.

Continuous Braille reading holds the key to learning spelling and active literacy skills. Braille is essential for subjects requiring intensive study like mathematics, science, geography, grammar, semantics, phonetics, etc. Indeed, Braille will remain the doyen of systems for giving to the visually impaired access to knowledge which is the main source of empowerment.

While the importance of Braille for developing countries is widely recognized, it is often contended that Braille is fast declining in more advanced countries due to the advent of technology. On the contrary, technology has enabled much increased production of braille, which can now be produced in quantities of thousands of pages a day using high speed braille printers housed in braille production centers in countries around the world. Moreover, advocacy efforts are underway to have more braille available – on signage, household appliances, consumer items and even pharmaceutical products.

And innovative technologies continue to be mobilized to produce a wide range of Braille reading and writing devices, bearing further testimony to the enduring importance of the system. The new upward Braille writing Frame recently brought out by RNIB in the UK, the ingenious devices recognized at World Braille 21 Congress in 2011, various heavy duty high speed Braille embossers, electronic Braille notetakers and the Smart Brailler, which is a new Braille learning and teaching device developed by Perkins Products, are just a few cases in point. Efforts are also currently underway to develop a low cost Refreshable Braille Display which will solve the issue of large and heavy Braille books and will make such technology available to developing countries.

Several UN instruments so critical to the disability sector, also recognize the continuing utility of Braille, and it receives particular mention in several Articles of the UNCRPD (UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities). And the June 2013 adoption by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities will break down barriers for the production and sharing of accessible format materials, including Braille.

It is the fervent belief and opinion of the World Blind Union that other accessible formats, including those accessed via technology, and Braille do not compete, but rather supplement one another. Indeed, they are essential for helping the visually impaired reader to keep abreast of the modern-day explosion of knowledge and information and to enhance their literacy and learning.

The impact of Braille is no better described than by quoting from “An Open Letter to Louis Braille” composed by a former Secretary-General, World Blind Union, Pedro Zurita who wrote: “And you know what, Louis? … I exhibit your invention everywhere. I read material the way you invented it standing, lying down, sitting, in any position, … Because your code, Louis, has afforded many, many blind people–myself among them, naturally–dignity, freedom, and many hours of incomparable spiritual enjoyment.”

As we celebrate International Mother Language Day, let us not forget the importance of Braille to ensuring access to their mother language by blind and partially sighted persons around the world.

The World Blind Union (WBU) is the global organization representing the estimated 285 million people worldwide who are blind or partially sighted. Members consist of organizations run by blind people advocating on their own behalf, and organizations that serve the blind in over 190 countries, as well as international organizations working in the field of vision impairment.

For further information contact:
World Blind Union
Marianne McQuillan,
Manager, Communications