Three years ago, the United Nations proclaimed January 4, the date on which Louis Braille was born in 1809, World Braille Day. World Braille Day recognizes the importance of Braille’s revolutionary raised dot system that allows people who are blind to read through touch. It also kicks off Braille Literacy Month, which we observe throughout January. It’s impossible to overstate the lifechanging impact braille has had over the years for millions of people with vision loss.
This year, we’re focusing our World Braille Day attention on the value to adults of becoming braille literate. Sighted people who don’t have much contact with those who are visually impaired usually don’t realize that most individuals who are proficient in braille learned it in school as children; it’s uncommon for folks who have lost their vision as adults to become fluent enough to read an entire braille book.
But braille can be immensely helpful to adults in many other ways that don’t require that level of proficiency. Even with the availability of magnifiers, screen readers, audiobooks and other kinds of access technology, braille can be a powerful tool for everyday living. For example, using it to label medications, food packages, and other household items can make ordinary tasks much easier. Bump dots are great, but braille can convey infinitely richer, more specific information.
Progress is also taking place, albeit slowly, in making government documents, healthcare forms and other key publications more accessible by offering them in multiple formats, including braille and large print. For example, the Internal Revenue Service will provide tax forms in accessible formats on request. Obviously much, much more needs to be done — for example, voting independently remains problematic because accessible ballots are not widely available — but the ability to take advantage of these new formats can go a long way in improving equity for people who are visually impaired.
The Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a leading braille education resource, recently transformed their curriculum to better meet the needs of adult braille learners. Hadley has moved away from their traditional methods, grounded in an academic approach informed by the way children learn, toward a model better suited for adults, focusing on practical tips for living well and independently.
We applaud that transformation, and encourage adults experiencing vision loss to consult with a vision services professional to explore whether learning braille is a good option for them.
We also urge everybody to continually tell the institutions they interact with that equity for people with impaired vision matters. And one of the most meaningful ways they can contribute to a more equitable society is to offer all their materials in accessible formats, like braille and large print. You can consider your advocacy on this issue your World Braille Day gift to the Council, the community of people we serve, and yourself!