In the Braille world

Allison MacLachlan
Allison MacLachlan

This week, people around the world celebrate the 200th anniversary of Louis Braille’s birth. Braille invented the raised-dot code that bears his name, enabling the blind to read with their fingers. Braille’s bicentennial is an important milestone for the 12,000 Canadians who use the code in their daily lives.

As new technologies emerge, it becomes easier for some to dismiss Braille as an outdated code. With audiobooks and podcasts, many say Braille is less a necessity and more an option for the blind. Why go through the effort of feeling each letter when you can simply sit and listen?

But, beneath the dots, Braille holds important significance as a language that unites the world.

As the global standard of communication for the blind, Braille is used across continents and cultures; geographically speaking, it’s the most widely read language.

Braille trumps technological inventions in practical terms too. In the case of a power outage or computer glitch, it doesn’t pay to be completely reliant on a machine to direct our verbal lives—we want to have important information at our fingertips.

If we believe technology will phase out Braille, we may as well agree the written word itself is going out of style—but this just doesn’t seem likely. If the crowds of holiday shoppers were any indication, bookstores are still very much on the consumer’s radar.

The written word holds its own in an economic slump, too. When exotic travels start to be considered luxuries we can pass up, books remain a relatively cheap way to find hours of entertainment. Escaping to Hogwarts or Lilliput creates a good mental refuge from visions of the credit crunch dancing through our heads.

We should celebrate Braille’s bicentennial, then, as more than just a passing date of interest to those who understand the code. This milestone for Braille should serve as a reminder of the magic of written language.

However technology may advance, the written word still fills a special niche. Louis Braille was onto something: There’s a good, old-fashioned charm to print and paper. Curling up with a data chip just doesn’t have the same effect as sitting down with a favourite book.

It seems unlikely Braille will go extinct anytime soon. So let’s use its 200-year milestone to make a wish for the next few hundred years of Braille.

In spite of a growing focus on accessibility, a vast majority of books remain in formats the blind can’t read. Working to change this reality seems like a logical place to start and we can applaud Canada for being a leader in this regard.

On Jan. 16, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind will launch a new Canadian Braille textbook, the country’s first in 50 years. Although it’s surprising this took half a century to happen, it’s an admirable way for our country to toast Braille’s bicentennial.

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