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Special Content

Issue No 40, 01 January -07 January 2022

World Braille Day

World Braille Day, celebrated since 2019 on January 4, is observed to raise awareness of the importance of Braille as a means of communication in the full realization of the human rights for blind and partially sighted people. The date marks the birth anniversary of Louis Braille, the creator of this unique and revolutionary writing system. Louis Braille, himself a visually challenged person, developed a system for visually challenged persons and published it in the 1820s. The present system was adopted in 1932. Braille is essential in the context of education, freedom of expression and opinion, as well as social inclusion.

 What is Braille?

Braille is a tactile representation of alphabetic and numerical symbols using six dots to represent each letter and number, and even musical, mathematical and scientific symbols. Braille (named after its inventor in 19th century France, Louis Braille) is used by visually challenged and partially sighted people to read the same books and periodicals as those printed in a visual font.

The Braille system has 63 dot patterns or characters. Each character represents a letter, a combination of letters, a common word or a grammatical sign. Dots are arranged in cells of two vertical rows of three dots each. These patterns when embossed on Braille sheets help visually challenged persons to recognise words by touching. To make them easier to touch, the dots are raised slightly.

Visually impaired people learn the Braille system by beginning with letters, then special characters and letter combinations. Methods depend upon recognition by touching. Each character has to be memorised. Braille texts can be produced by hand or by machine. Typewriter-like devices and printing machines have now been developed. Many Indian languages can be read using the Braille system.

Who was Louis Braille?

Louis Braille, born in Coupvray (France), was blinded in an accident when he was three years old. But that did not stop him from getting educated-first at the village school, and then, from the ages of 10 to 18, at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris, founded 34 years before by Valentin Haüy. Teaching in this school was done with the system invented by Haüy: the books had black letters (the letters of the printed script used by sighted people) but in relief. They were, however, very difficult to read by touch, because they were very close together. Moreover, the pupils could not write, because it required a printing press, with paper needing to be dipped in water before being put on the press and then dried.

While at school, Louis Braille became enthusiastic about Charles Barbier de la Serre's system, which could easily be read and written, and only needed a simple board and a stamp that could fit in a pocket. However, he thought it had its limitations because it only transcribed phonetics. He began working on improving its principles when he was 12.

The first thing Braille did was reduce the number of raised dots from twelve to six, so that they all fit under the index finger and were easier and quicker to read. With this as a basis, he created a complete alphabet, including punctuation, numerical signs, and digits. This was a key distinction from Barbier's phonetic system. Louis Braille was a music enthusiast who excelled at organ. He thus adapted his system for music at the age of 19, when he incorporated music scores into his system (Braille music).

He explained his method in his book Method for Writing Words, Music and Plain Song by Means of Dots for the Use of the Blind (Procédé pour écrire les paroles, la musique et le plain-chant au moyen de points à l'usage des aveugles).

Government Schemes for the Visually Impaired

From changing the narrative from Viklang into 'Divyang', bringing Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, and ensuring accessibility of education, economic and social development, to rehabilitation wherever necessary, the Government has initiated several schemes for the benefit of the persons with disabilities, including the visually impaired. Here are some of the several initiatives taken by the Government.

A. The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, in March 2019 released the new series of visually impaired friendly circulation coins of Rs. 1, Rs. 2, Rs. 5, Rs. 10 and Rs. 20. These are the various denominations of coins released as part of the new series. The coins are characterized by the increasing size and weight from lower to higher denominations. The newly included coin of Rs 20 is a 12 sided coin with no serrations. The rest of the denominations are of round shape.

 B. In pursuance of the provisions under Article 41 of the Constitution, the Central Sector Scheme of "Support for Establishment/Modernization/Capacity Augmentation of Braille Presses" was started in the year 2014-15 to provide the Braille material and literature to the Persons with Visual Disabilities in India. From the year 2020-21, it has become part of "Scheme for Implementation of Persons' with Disabilities Act (SIPDA)". Under the Braille Press scheme financial assistance has been provided to 27 Braille Presses (Establishment of New Braille Presses-12, Modernized Braille presses-12 and Capacity Augmented of old Braille Presses-3) in various states. Apart from nonrecurring grant for setting up of new Braille Presses and Modernization/Capacity augmentation of existing Braille Presses, recurring grant has also been provided to the Braille Presses as per norms at Rs1.50/- (later revised to Rs 2/- per page). Recurring financial assistance has been provided to 16 Braille Presses during operation of the existing scheme over the last seven years. These Braille Presses are supported for recurring grants for printing and providing textbooks and other course materials to the visually impaired school going children across the country. The objectives of the scheme is to establish new Braille Presses in the state where strong organisations are already present; to establish small scaled Braille Presses in UTs and to modernize old Braille Presses using traditional and low speed printing.

C. Indian banknotes contain several features which enable the visually impaired (colour blind, partially sighted and the visually challenged) to identify them, viz., intaglio printing and tactile mark, variable banknote size, large numerals, variable colour, monochromatic hues and patterns. Technological progress has opened up new opportunities for making Indian banknotes more accessible for the visually impaired, thereby facilitating their day to day transactions. The RBI has developed a mobile application "Mobile Aided Note Identifier (MANI)" to aid visually impaired persons to identify the denomination of Indian Banknotes. The app, launched in January 2020, helps in identifying the denominations of Mahatma Gandhi Series and Mahatma Gandhi (New) Series banknotes by checking front or reverse side/part of the note including half folded notes at various holding angles and broad range of light conditions (normal light/day light/low light). The app can help identify the denomination through audio notification in Hindi/English and non-sonic mode such as vibration (suitable for those with vision and hearing impairment). After installation, the mobile application does not require the internet and works in offline mode. However, the app does not authenticate a note as being either genuine or counterfeit.

D. Amenities, such as Braille cultural notice boards/signages, exhibitions with Braille labels, and tactile paths, are being provided to make cultural heritage sites accessible to the visually impaired.

Compiled by Annesha Banerjee and Anuja Bhardwajan

Source: PIB / NCERT / RBI / museelouisbraille.com