What is World Braille Day?
World Braille Day celebrates Louise Braille, the founder of Braille, and his dedication to improving accessibility to those who are blind or have low vision.
Louise Braille was born on January 4, 1809 in Coupvray France. At the age of three, he was blinded in an accident while playing with a toy in his father’s harness shop. While attending the National Institute for Blind Children in Paris, a former soldier, Charles Barbier, visited the school and shared his invention called, “night writing.” It was a code of 12 raised dots that were embossed on cardboard and symbolized phonetic sounds. Using the code, soldiers could share any message or top-secret information on the battlefield without having to speak.
Louise took the concept and created a code for the French alphabet using different combinations of 6 dots, rather than 12. The number and arrangement of the dots distinguishes the characters from one another, and the mappings of the raised dots vary depending on the language. Louise later developed notations for mathematics and music, and published the first ever Braille book in 1829. Due to the controversy of his developed writing system, it was not fully accepted and taught until after his death, when a group of British men, now known as the Royal National Institute for the Blind, took up the cause.Since Braille is a code, all languages and even certain subjects like math, music and computer programming can be read and written in it.
Who Celebrates World Braille Day?
Everyone! Although World Braille Day is not an official holiday, it is observed and celebrated world-wide on the 4th of January every year. Non-governmental organizations, charities and educators around the world use this day to create awareness about the challenges faced by low vision individuals and to encourage businesses and governments to create economic and social opportunities for the blind.
According to the World Health Organization in 2014, 285 million people are estimated to be visually impaired worldwide. Of these 285 million people, 39 million are blind, and 246 million are considered to have “low vision.” About 65% of all people who are visually impaired are aged 50 and older, and comprises about 20% of the world’s population. An estimated 19 million children are visually impaired, with 1.4 million being irreversibly blind for the rest of their lives.
The Key to Literacy
The World Blind Union is pushing for the ratification of The Marrakesh Treaty in 2016. Also known as the “Right to Read Campaign,” the Treaty would update international copyright laws pertaining to reading materials in accessible formats for the blind, low vision and print-disabled individuals. Currently, only 1-7% of the world’s published books ever make it into accessible formats, and all Braille books must stay within the country where they are produced because of restrictive international copyright laws.
First signed in Morocco on June 28, 2013, the Treaty will come into full force once it is ratified by 20 countries. Although the Treaty has been signed by 81 countries, it has only been ratified by 11 countries. Once in effect, any country that ratified the Treaty must ensure their laws allow individuals who are blind, and their organizations, to make accessible format books without the need to ask permission first from the holder of copyright.
Secondly, the Treaty would allow for the import and export of accessible versions of books and other copyrighted works without copyright holder’s permission, which would avoid the duplication of transcription efforts in different countries.
Many people argue that with today’s technological developments, Braille is no longer necessary to learn or teach. With text-to-speech applications and audio books, why would Braille be important? The one thing that Braille provides that any technological advancement does not is literacy. While “reading” Braille, the individual is also learning the fundamentals of sentence structure; how many words and sentences are structured, and where and which punctuation is used. Braille is also the most common accessibility feature used for individuals who have low vision or are blind in public areas such as airports and ATMs.
On this day, it is important that we spread awareness for those who are blind or have low vision. The World Blind Union also encourages everyone to contact their government to let them know the “Right to Read” is an important human right for all people, and ask them to sign and ratify The Marrakesh Treaty. Find more information about the campaign and how you can help on The World Blind Union website.