Braille: accessibility improves in Brazil, but still needs to advance
One in every four Brazilians with visual impairment is illiterate
Published on 08/01/2023 - 08:25 By Mariana Tokarnia - Agência Brasil - Rio de Janeiro
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Almost 200 years ago, Braille started allowing blind or low vision people to write and read. On the World Braille Day, January 4th, Agência Brasil talked to specialists who show that the country has improved accessibility for these people, but still needs to move forward.
"I usually say that mankind had a great conquest with the invention of writing and, during all this time, there were attempts to develop a writing for the blind. The great conquest came with Braille. From that moment on, blind people started to participate in history", says the member of the World Council and of the Iberian-American Braille Council, Regina Oliveira.
According to Regina, Braille is a fundamental tool for literacy and independence for blind people and people with low vision. She was born with glaucoma and, at the age of 7, completely lost her sight. As a child, she had her first contact with the Dorina Nowill Foundation for the Blind, which she currently coordinates and where she was taught braille. The importance of the Braille system, according to her, is in the access to schooling as well as to information that impacts the daily life of people in general.
The last Census of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), in 2010, shows that there are in Brazil more than 6.5 million people with visual impairment, being 506 thousand blind and about 6 million with low vision. Among blind people, 110 thousand aged 15 or more are not literate. Among people with low vision, 1.5 million cannot read or write. This means that about one in four people (25%) with some visual impairment were considered to be non-literate. A rate higher than the general population, which in 2010 was approximately 8% for this age group.
The teacher at the Benjamin Constant Institute, also for the blind and visually impaired, regrets that there are few specialized institutions to support them. "There are few teachers with braille knowledge in the public and private education networks in the country", she adds.
There have been advances. Since 2019, for example, by the National Program of the Accessible Textbook, textbooks started to be printed in Braille and enlarged letters in Portuguese. Blind and low-vision students now receive the same books as the rest of the students in the class.
According to the interviewees, however, there is still a need not only to print more books and materials in Braille, but also to expand the access to equipment such as the Braille Line, which is still very expensive. This line is an equipment that displays in Braille what is on the screen of computers, tablets and cell phones. "For me, it is in the field of consumption dream", says Margareth.
Regina points out that Brazil is very rich in legislation. "The big question is to put this legislation into effect, to make everything work".
Margareth reinforces that braille should not be replaced by screen readers or other resources. "Digital computer resources do not replace braille", she adds. For her, blind people have the right to braille. "Many times, he wants to read a musical score, a music cipher, he needs this contact with braille. [The system] facilitates the understanding of some resources, facilitates, for instance, the study of a foreign language", she says.
The Braille system was created in 1825 by Frenchman Louis Braille, blind at the age of three due to an accident which caused the infection of both eyes. The best known version of this fingertip reading dates from 1837. The system allows communication in several languages.
In Brazil, Braille was introduced by José Álvares de Azevedo, creator of the first school for teaching the blind in the country, the Imperial Institute of Blind Children, now Benjamin Constant. On April 8th, Azevedo's birthday, the National Braille Day is celebrated.
Translation: Sônia Fernandes - Edition: Graça Adjuto / Nira Foster