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World Braille Day 2022: what is the future for braille?

By VICTOR ODOGWU
04 January 2022   |   10:00 am
For many years, this has been the primary mode of reading and writing for Persons with Visual Impairment but Braille seams to be becoming “old school”.

A visually impaired girl reads a Braille description at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo PHOTO: REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin

A =Dot 1, B =Dot 1 2,C = Dot 1 4.

For many years, this has been the primary mode of reading and writing for Persons with Visual Impairment but Braille seams to be becoming “old school”.

Back in the day in 1824 when Louis Braille was only 15, he developed a six-dot “cell” systemof writing. He used Barbier’s system as a starting point and cut its 12-dot configuration in half. The system was first published in 1829; while a more complete elaboration appeared in 1837.

So what exactly is Braille? What we know as Braille today first began from Night writing, the name given to a form of writing invented by Charles Barbier as one of a dozen forms of alternative writing presented in a book published in 1815:

Essai sur Divers Procédés D’Expéditive Française, Contenant douze écritures différentes, avec une Planche pour chaque procédé. Back to English.

This method of writing with raised dots that could be read by touch was adopted at the Institution Royale des Jeune Aveugles ( Royal Institution for Blind Youth) in Paris. Barbier also invented the tools for creating writing with raised dots. A student at the school, Louis Braille, used the tools and Barbier’s idea of communicating with raised dots in a form of code, and developed a more compact and flexible system for communications.

Now, with this system, simply by putting together different compositions of six dots in what is called sells, we can have letters, punctuation marks, numbers, mathematical signs, and even musical symbols. This ground-breaking invention from first Barbier, then Braille has really contributed to improving the literacy level of persons with visual impairment. Now, when a person loses ones sight, said person just needs to undergo a rehabilitation process where amongst other things, the way to read and write as a person with visual impairment is learnt. Braille is used in schools by students to take down notes, for exams, to make public facilities accessible, and believe it or not, it is even used to write love letters.

These are awesome use cases that promotes inclusion and participation of persons with visual impairment, but Braille as we know it has it’s own shortcomings.
For one, those within the blind community would agree that due to the passage of time, and all that comes with it, Braille becomes unreadable eventually; hence, it is not a form of writing that can be used to store historical events.

There is also the bulky nature of Braille. For example, I remember back in secondary school when we were using New General Mathematics. For our sighted colleagues, all they had was that one textbook that could be carried on one hand, but for we distinguished ones, one of the transcribed Braille volumes alone was a lot larger than the original textbook; and we even had five of them. Now multiply that by textbooks for other subjects and a student with visual impairment would literally have a huge mess lying around!

Overtime, there has been a lot of upgrade aimed at making Braille more accessible for persons with visual impairment. Devices like the Pocket Frame was invented to make it easier to take down notes, but fast forward to Braille of today and we have tech solutions that has been created to revolutionise Braille as we know it but is it affordable? The most popular and “most affordable” Braille Display device, Orbit Reader 20, today goes for a minimum of N500,000 and as I said, it is the “most affordable”. Please think with me:
What is the incentive structure for me to continue with Braille when it almost cannot be used for long-term purposes?

As a student, why would I Braille my textbooks when I can just get the E-copy in to a little memory card and still be fine?

Why buy an Orbit Reader 20 of N500,000 when I can get a good laptop for half the price and install a screen reader for free?
Picture this story of these two people that just lost their sight. Ayo loses his sight, learns Braille, still goes on to learn how to use a computer as a blind person (afterall, examiners can’t read Braille). On the other hand, we have Joy. She gets blind. As a girl that doesn’t like stress, she goes to learn how to use the computer.

Who gets on with life faster?

Is it absolutely necessary to learn Braille today?
There are obvious challenges with the M O of Braille as we know it. As Louis Braille did an upgrade on Charles Barbier’s invention, we need another upgrade that factors in the realities of the 21st century to take Braille to the next level.

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