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World Braille Day coming up in January

Braille, the tactile writing system used by the blind and partially-sighted, has become such a fact of life for many people that its origins are often forgotten. However, the language - which has proven life-changing when it comes to aiding communication among the visually impaired - only sprung into existence in 1829.

It was invented by the Frenchman Louis Braille, who lost his vision at an early age following a childhood accident but remained determined to read and write in spite of his disability.

Although it was acknowledged as a useful tool for people with visual impairment after its first publication, the system did not become widespread until after Braille's death in 1854.

On 4th January, World Braille Day will be held, to celebrated the inventor's birthday and highlight the many advances in the language he proposed. Charities and non-governmental organisations across the world will take part in the event, which also celebrates how technology has made the lives of the visually impaired easier by producing braille display technology, braille printers and other improvements to the day-to-day life of those affected by sightlessness.

Basically, braille consists of a series of raised dots on a page, each representing a particular letter or abbreviation. At more advanced levels, the system can become more personalised and utilise a highly-contracted personal shorthand, to make comprehension easier and faster.

According to pioneering charity Fight for Sight, almost 2 million people across the UK are living with some form of vision loss that has a serious impact on their day-to-day life, with one in nine people over 60 affected by this problem.

Even more worryingly, some two-fifths of the blind and partially-sighted feel 'moderately' or 'completely' cut off from the people and things around them - this highlights just how important systems such as braille are when it comes to helping this group form connections with the world.

Admittedly, more advanced forms of so-called assistive technology (AT) such as screen readers have emerged in the last two decades, in line with the increasing processing power and capabilities of modern computers.

But braille education is still crucial for developing reading skills among blind and visually impaired young children, and the creation of new forms of AT should not take away from the remarkable and prescient achievement of Louis Braille in the 19th century.

There are still some concerns over the degree of alienation faced by sightless people in the UK, with some analysts feeling that further emphasis on braille could help ameliorate their condition.

For instance, the charity Action for Blind People collated statistics from Pey, Nzegwu and Dooley showing that four out of five blind and partially-sighted people have difficulties with identifying food and medicine labels, perhaps indicating that braille could be utilised effectively on products to help with this issue.

And only seven per cent of books are available in large print, unabridged audio and braille, even when e-books are taken into account, which highlights how important World Braille Day can be in drawing attention to the problems still facing visually impaired Britons.ADNFCR-438-ID-801678009-ADNFCR

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