With World Braille Day on January 4, it is important to raise awareness that blind students in Bangladesh suffer from a scarcity of Braille books
In 2017, a Braille book publication house called 'Sporsho' decided to give away free Braille books to the visually impaired. Sporsho had published 45 titles by that time. Nazia Jabeen, founder and publisher of Sporsho, started the publication house because she had realized that there is a severe scarcity of Braille books in the country.
The National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB), the autonomous organization under the Ministry of Education in Bangladesh responsible for the development of curriculum, production and distribution of textbooks, also started distributing free Braille textbooks for visually impaired students in 2017.
Even though that was a positive development, the reach of these books remains far from adequate. In 2016, a total of 35.42 crore textbooks were distributed free of cost, fulfilling the needs of over four crore students nationwide. Braille books were also distributed, but the NCTB has made 8,405 Braille books available for 963 visually impaired students. Bangladesh has almost 800,000 blind people, among which 40,000 are children under the age of 15. This leaves a large number of blind students with no access to Braille books.
Rifat Shapar Khan, a social worker, said that the distribution of these books are concentrated and needs to be more widespread. Khan previously worked as a program manager for Sightsavers International, which works to eliminate avoidable blindness and has been operating in Bangladesh since 1973.
“The distribution of textbooks needs to be more even. The main challenge is reaching all parts of Bangladesh. If one Union has the textbooks available but other Unions don't get any, that means visually impaired children continue to be deprived of their right to education,” she said.
Mohammad Shahidullah, the deputy director of Blind Education and Rehabilitation Development Organization (BERDO) said that while producing Braille textbook is a positive thing, books in general remain vastly inaccessible to the blind and partially sighted persons.
However, blind and partially sighted people are able to take advantage of new technologies that enable them to use using computer and mobile phones. The blind and partially sighted people in Bangladesh mainly use software like Screen Reader that reads out the content on the computer screen to the user, said Iftekhar Ahmed, Program Director of Center for Services and Information of Disability (CSID).
"However, the need for more Braille books," said Ahmed, "may be addressed by using these software to read books out loud from a device. Even then it is not fully practical, as many people in Bangladesh still cannot afford such devices."
Interesting facts about Braille writing system
Why don't they just use bumped out letters on page?
Braille is written as "cells" that contain of six raised dot patterns. These dots are arranged in a rectangle containing two columns, each having three of these raised dots. There are unique patterns for each letter in the alphabet. If the 'regular' letters were used it would be very difficult for a visually challenged person to distinguish between different letters, particularly those that are similar, such as 'O' and 'Q' in the English language. The same is true of all other languages. The Braille system is much more efficient.
How to write Braille by hand
A slate and a stylus are used for writing Braille. The slate has small holes built in the form of standard size Braille dots. The stylus is used to punch out each letter, one dot at a time. Embossing with the stylus requires special Braille paper, because conventional paper is too fragile for Braille writing.
Braille writing is harder than you think
Braille has to be written backwards for it to be readable. You have to write the cells in reverse and have to write from right to left (or in case of languages like Hebrew and Arabic, from left to right). This is because in order to create the raised dots you must punch the paper from the other side. Only then when you remove the paper from the slate and flip it over to read the raised dots they will be in correct order and orientation.