WORLD BRAILLE DAY 2021
SEE THE UNSEEN
As special educators, my mother and I try our best to ensure that we teach the children in the way they are comfortable in learning. We make assistive learning tools and kits, that help children learn their subjects in a better and engaging manner. One day, one of the parents approached my mother, requesting her to assist his son in learning. He is a bright child but constrained by visual impairment. He is more an auditory and kinaesthetic learner. To equip ourselves to teach him effectively, my mother and I embarked on the journey to learn Braille.
WHAT IS BRAILLE?
Braille is a language, wherein letters are represented by indentation and read by touch. Invented by Louis Braille, a French man blinded at a young age, this language is a form of communication for people with visual impairment. Every character is in the form of a dotted cell.
Have you ever tried reading/writing/ walking with closed eyes? Often when we close our eyes, we feel that we have lost touch with the world. We are so dependent on our eyes, that we feel nothing is possible without them. But for people with visual impairment, they lead a life as any other person does. This doesn’t act as a barrier. Not that it is not difficult for them, but they learn to use other senses like touch, smell, sound, taste to manage their living. In fact, they use these senses better than people with sight.
For me and my mother, learning the Braille language made a profound impact on us. Not only did we learn to write but also read them blindfolded. Initially, we did find it difficult to type the alphabet in Braille. We did feel helplessness and anxiety as to whether it would come right or go wrong? We were facing challenges in identifying objects just by feeling, or smell. It was a big ask to work on our focus, awareness of touch using fingers, and inculcate trust in other sense organs. In the end, it was highly satisfying, to be able to read, understand, and express our feelings without having to use our sight.
But a point to ponder here is that, they can hear and speak. So, People with sight can communicate with them without any hassle. THEN WHY SHOULD WE LEARN BRAILLE?
Though they can hear, how can they visualize what you tell? You tell them the tree is big and bulky on top. But how will you make them understand the difference between trees, shrubs, and other plants? You can teach them that a dog barks, but how will they know that dog’s tail is in a particular shape and is bushy? Being a human being, they can internally visualize themselves, but how will you make them understand the shape of the nose, the structure of the eyes?
How will you be able to explain to them the various colors? They might differentiate between various cloth types, using their sense of touch. But how will they know how they would look like after wearing them? How will you make them understand the compliment, “ You are looking nice!”.
During my college days, I had a friend who was very intelligent, but she was suffering from visual impairment. She had difficulties in walking to the class, taking a particular page of the book, following what the professor was teaching, accessing resources in the college, and many more. Training them in a particular subject using the methodology used to teach people with sight wouldn’t work. It must be made customized for them. However, the academic teachers there weren’t equipped enough to train the child and empower her. With the help of a scribe and assistive devices, she managed to clear her exams and emerge successfully. But she had to drop many subjects, as the teachers weren’t able to teach her. We will only be able to teach them, only if we understand how they comprehend.
In order to make them understand, in order to communicate with them, we must perceive what they perceive. This doesn’t come just by typing the letters, but learning their way, blindfolded. To understand what they go through, we must put ourselves in their shoes.
So why not learn Braille with the same passion many of us show to learn a new language.
Akshaya Narasimhan, an ACCA Affiliate is the Business Architect of Prakramika Institute. She is a certified yoga therapist, dance therapist and special educator. She has been working for people with capabilities in academic and vocational subjects over the past 10 years, with a vision to empower them. Her ambition is bringing an inclusive education and workspace environment. She is also heading Human Resource Management and Entrepreneurship Development under Atmanirbhar Bharat.