Today, Monday 4 January is World Braille Day. It is our opportunity to celebrate the independence and access to information enjoyed by thousands of people who are blind or vision impaired thanks to the inventive genius of Louis Braille.
While there is more to be done to raise awareness of braille, it is experiencing a resurgence in New Zealand thanks to the increasing use of electronic braille displays and the work of Blind Citizens NZ, Blind and Low Vision Education Network NZ (BLENNZ) and Blind Low Vision NZ who continue to advocate to government agencies, commercial and community organisations for the provision of information in braille and other accessible formats.
A year ago on World Braille Day New Zealand ratified the Marrakesh Treaty. This allows cross-border transfer of braille materials without the threat of copyright infringement.
During 2020 blind people in New Zealand who had braille listed as their preferred format received in braille government information about COVID-19. Feedback from around the world laments the lack of accessible information about COVID-19, so New Zealand can be proud of its efforts on behalf of braille readers.
In November BANZAT celebrated its tenth anniversary at a function at the BLENNZ Homai Campus. A moving highlight of the celebration was a performance by blind adult musicians who, as part of their learning braille, had asked to be taught braille music. Violin, viola and flute players performed and sang, all their parts having been learned from scores written in braille music. New Zealand has been teaching braille to blind adults since Blind Low Vision NZ was established in 1890. To our knowledge this is the first time New Zealand braille instructors have taught braille music to adult new learners, providing another motivational tool for teachers and students alike.
Literacy, numeracy and performance through braille and braille music is alive and well in New Zealand. Our challenge is to keep growing this through ongoing advocacy.
The campaign to have the United Nations formally recognise World Braille Day was led by the World Blind Union. To celebrate today the WBU has issued a statement which can be found at:
To New Zealand’s braille readers, service providers and funders we say “let’s celebrate”. And to all of us, today is a timely reminder that we still have much to do to ensure that all information and literature is readily available in braille to people who are blind or vision impaired.