4 January 2021

World Braille Day

For World Braille Day Austin blogs about how work is still needed to improve employment opportunites for the blind and partially sighted.

It is World Braille day on 4 January 2021, marking the birthday of Louis Braille, who invented it.

Braille is used by visually impaired people to read the same books and periodicals as those printed in a visual font. Braille uses six dots on paper to represent each letter and number, as well as musical, mathematical and scientific symbols.

Unfortunately, in previous centuries, visually impaired people often lived by begging. John Milton was one of the greatest poets of the 17th century who lost his sight and had a great deal of his works written through dictation, but sadly many blind people had no reading skills.

From 1802, Valentin Hauy established the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris. This school taught children to read by feeling raised letters, but because they were made using paper pressed against copper wire, the students never learned to write. Louis Braille resolved this problem by inventing a raised, dot system on paper corresponding with letters and published his first book in 1827.

In 1821, Braille learned of an invented communication system devised by Captain Charles Barbier of the French Army in the Napoleonic Wars. This invention was called “night writing” which was a code of dots and dashes impressed into thick paper. These impressions could be interpreted entirely by the fingers, letting soldiers share information on the battlefield without having a light or needing to speak. It was a complicated system but simplified by Louis Braille in 1837. He stated: "Access to communication in the widest sense is access to knowledge, and that is vitally important for us if we [the blind] are not to go on being despised or patronised by condescending sighted people. We do not need pity, nor do we need to be reminded we are vulnerable. We must be treated as equals – and communication is the way this can be brought about.”

Braille is essential in the context of education, freedom of expression and opinion, as well as social inclusion. Today, the Royal National Institute of the Blind reports that 27% of blind and partially sighted people of working age are in employment – a fall from 33% in employment in 2006. PCS must campaign for more support for Braille facilities throughout the civil service and the private sector. We need to ensure our employers are leading in recruitment for all blind and partially sighted workers.