January 05, 2021

#WorldBrailleDay: a collective insight

"The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision” - Hellen Keller. 

A sighted person may not always understand the perils of those who are not as lucky and may often tend to take his gift for granted. The sightless, on the other hand, have to fight their own hurdles and face their own challenges. To add insult to injury the society is not always supportive, making it rather difficult for a differently abled person to live a productive life. 

In 1809, Louis Braille, a French educator, who had himself lost his eyesight in a childhood accident, devised a tactile reading and writing system. This system consisted of raised dots and was sadly accepted and taught in schools in the U.S only by 1916 by which time Louis was dead. Decades later, in November 2018, the UN chose the fourth of January  to be commemorated as #WorldBrailleDay in his memory in order to increase awareness and sensitivity among people world over.

Over time, advances in science and technology has led to constant improvisations of techniques and ideas of innovation. We now have audio books, Google assistants, and technologically driven lifestyle aids that are voice sensitive. However, one cannot undermine the role that Braille played in lighting the flame of hope and passing on the baton for an equal world. 

So here is a list of Braille friendly endeavours that are touching hearts and paving ways towards an inclusive society. 

In India

  • ITC Savlon along with NAB (National Association for the Blind) initiated a design change for its antiseptic liquid pack and made it available to several NAB centres, select blind schools and educative workshops. 

  • Taco Bell Mumbai, in two of its outlets, one at Rcity, Ghatkopar and the other at Viviana Mall, Thane, set an example by introducing the first Braille Menu for blind consumers. The menu was/is in print as well as in Braille-and audio-enabled in order to be accessible to all. A very sensitive and all-inclusive gesture.

  • Nawabs Wajid Ali Shah Zoological gardens in Lucknow has Braille educational boards for the convenience of visually impaired visitors. This is done in order to promote inclusivity, spread awareness, education, and conservation of the wild life and ecosystem among all alike, abled and differently abled individuals. 

Inspiration from the rest of the world: 

  • Argentina has Tiflolibros and digital libraries started by the WIPPO (world intellectual properties protection organisation). These help in making a vast collection of books and reading material accessible to the visually impaired. 

  • L’Occitane, a French beauty company, has done a fantastic job in successfully incorporating Braille into its packaging of almost 70% of its products. 
  • There are several other more economical and simpler ways to improve packaging and make it all inclusive. Square packaging instead of round bottles when it comes to bath products will ensure the product won't roll off and will be in easy reach even if it slips. A tactile code system like a raised strip on a shampoo bottle and dot on conditioner will make it easy for the visually impaired to identify. These have been employed in other countries and should be considered in India as well. 
  • Medical prescriptions can get real tedious to follow if one is visually impaired, especially when it comes to following the instructions written in tiny print on the cover of medicine bottles. So the U.S has come up with a perfect solution to the problem. CVS pharmacy, in the United States, has collaborated with the American Council for the Blind and created a new and particularly helpful feature on the CVS Pharmacy phone app, known as the SpokenRx. SpokenRx is an in-app prescription reader and is specially designed to read out all the information on prescription bottles, thus making it a lot more convenient for those unable to read the tiny font themselves. CVS pharmacy plans to equip all pharmacies in the U.S with this feature by 2021 end.
We can only hope India will work towards taking similar steps. Living with dignity is a basic human right and it is our duty as people living in the society to promote an all-inclusive behavior to each and every one of its members. To ensure equal rights to education, freedom of expression and financial safety to all its members. Compared to the West, India still has a long way to go. But hope springs eternal. And if a general sense of humanity persists, we will get there...

Speaking of which, one voluntary organisation that deserves to be mentioned for its commendable efforts to spreading hope and positivity is We4You. I came across their page on Facebook a couple of years ago and volunteered to donate my voice for their audio books...a feature that promises to help visually impaired children to visualize the world in a better way. To spark their power of imagination. To impart education through academic textbooks. To engage and inspire with story telling. I hope my recordings were able to do justice. 
We4You helps visually impaired children to find their footing in the world, through audio books, vocational training, and education. They encourage, empower, hone skills, provide accessible information, and employment assistance. 
Do check out their page and become a volunteer if you wish. We need to support such efforts in whichever way we can.

Ending here on a pensive note, with a poignant quote for you to reflect upon...

"There is no better way to thank God for your sight than by giving a helping hand to someone in the dark."  ~ Helen Keller

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