World Braille Day: Inspired by Louis, Martine Urges us to Promote Braille

Martine Abel-Williamson, A New Zealander and President of the World Blind Union, shares her thoughts and call to action on World Braille Day.

The Time is Now: Taking Louis's Lead

Martine Abel-Williamson QSM, World Blind Union President

On 4 January 2022 we'll be commemorating the 213th birthday of Louis Braille, the inventor of the tactile system many of us use as our prime literacy tool.

Young Louis didn't have it easy – he invented braille in 1824 while still a teenager, and living in quite dire circumstances, in a poorly maintained residential facility. Charity was the order of the day.

And then, once he did come up with his invention, he got ridiculed and was highly criticized by so-called learned professionals.

There are a number of lessons we can learn from Louis's life. He didn't use a lack of life's basics as an excuse not to excel. He never put the blame on others for causing the situation he was in. And he found the space in his mind and heart to become one of the largest innovators ever!

Some during this COVID pandemic have shown great resilience, in making do with what was at our disposal and getting quickly up to speed with matters such as meeting online. And yet, so many are stifled by first world problems, waiting on others to make life easy. Yes, Louis did succumb to unhealthy living conditions and illness in the end, but didn't he make the best of the time he had!

Also, when looking at his invention, braille has proven its durability and sustainability. It can be produced manually, mechanically and electronically. Yes, it's there for the basics like for educational purposes, for, without education, where would we be. But it's also amazingly present when we look at the “nice” things in life. You'll find it on clothing, jewellery, wine bottles and coffee mugs. As the saying goes: give us bread, and give us roses!

In the end, I don't simply want to pay tribute to Louis Braille by remembering what he's done for us, but to challenge us all to step up the pace as the work is not done yet. While I as an individual have access to at least five technological options to access information in braille and synthesized speech, in the community of 253 million blind and low vision persons around the world, so many still cannot access what I can. This is either because great opportunities and solutions are not affordable, or where those might actually be existing at a limited cost, the word hasn't reached everybody around availability and what governments, the corporate sector and as a matter of fact, all of us can do about that.

It's up to all of us to promote the value of braille in practical ways, to spread the word when we learn of scholarship opportunities in the fields of science, technology and access to information. We can even speak up at local and central government level, whether for the purposes of increasing the access to braille within one's own country or whether to urge enhanced international co-operation opportunities.

So, in conclusion I still wish to say, thank you, Louis, not just for inventing your liberating code, but for putting the challenge out there for us all to take up the responsibility of advancing access to literacy.