The efforts and initiatives that marked World Braille Day, only speak of the country’s commitment to creating a culture of acceptance, empowerment and education for all
Each year, since 2019, World Braille Day is observed on January 4 to raise awareness of the importance of Braille, as a means of communication in the full realisation of the human rights of blind and partially sighted people. The day also happens to be the birthday of Louis Braille, the inventor of braille. He once said, “Access to communication in the widest sense is access to knowledge, and that is vitally important for us if we are not to go on being despised or patronized by condescending sighted people.” In the UAE, the leaders, experts and people are committed to supporting the vision of building an inclusive space and empowering one and all. We look at the series of efforts and initiatives that marked World Braille Day in the country.
More Than 2,000 braille books
Mohammed bin Rashid Library (MBRL) is committed to integrating people of determination in the public sphere and promoting their capabilities by offering them a unique collection of books and resources that they can both read and listen to as they (visually impaired individuals) constitute an integral part of society. The Library's People of Determination Information Centre is an initiative dedicated to supporting and empowering people who are blind and visually impaired. The Centre offers over 2,000 Braille books in Arabic and English, covering literary, historical, and intellectual topics and references. The Children's Library houses a collection of purposeful stories gifted to MBRL by the Braille Institute in Los Angeles, the Zayed Charitable & Humanitarian Foundation, and Dar Ibsar in Jordan. In addition, MBRL is making efforts to integrate and empower people of determination, by adjusting its building and facilities to the Dubai Universal Design Code. These efforts include providing Braille signs on public utilities, audio and visual alarm systems, toilet alarm devices, and evacuation chairs on all floors of the building among others. They also offer several supporting devices to facilitate the knowledge journey, including magnifiers, reading devices, and Braille printers. MBRL has also included Braille language in the cataloguing cards across its Information Centre and the Children's Library, allowing the visually impaired to sense Braille dots and identify the topics of books on the shelves. They’re keen to host workshops for improving their employees’ abilities to communicate with people of determination, as part of a long-term strategy to empower staff and develop their skills.
Within the valuable collection, the Mohammed bin Rashid Library includes several Arabic Braille titles for His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, such as Flashes of Thought and the Hope Probe.
Everyone has a right to education
Kalimat Foundation, a Sharjah-based non-profit organisation, celebrated the Day in collaboration with House of Wisdom and Emirates Schools Establishment, and hosted 25 children over a reading session (with Samya Ayish, who read the book Falfoosh Lost His Memory) and a workshop (aimed at exemplifying the significance of braille and its role in empowering children with accessible sources of knowledge), and also distributed accessible books to the participants. "Braille has given hope to the blind and visually impaired, providing them with the ability to access and make the most of education and cultural communication," said Amna Al Mazmi, Manager, Kalimat Foundation (KF). Amna also emphasised the importance of collaboration between government, civil society organisations, and the public and private sectors to produce accessible books in all fields, ensuring that everyone has the right to education. The children learnt different reading and writing methods and techniques as well as the basics of braille characters. Amma highlighted the role of braille in helping children with visual challenges feel connected to their communities and cultures. She stressed that the consequences of a lack of access to books in accessible formats will be a huge gap in their lives that can only be bridged through culture, education and concepts learnt and shared through those books. Since its founding, Kalimat has worked to improve the lives of blind and visually impaired children through its ‘Ara’ (I see) initiative, which supports the production of accessible content in all formats.
The celebration called for an increase in the production and distribution of accessible books, the promotion of events, reading sessions, and workshops, as well as new methods and techniques for creating books in different accessible formats.
A 3D art that incorporates braille
Mashal K, a visually impaired Grade 2 student, GEMS International School – Al Khail, has produced a piece of 3D art that incorporates braille to help the visually impaired appreciate the sense of touch. Mashal has been exploring Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers series and
learning about the dynamics of acrylic paint for a while now. Mashal is assisted by her learning support assistant, who went out of her way to learn braille so she could provide enhanced support to Mashal by helping her use her sense of touch and fine motor skills to produce a wonderful piece of 3D art. She learned to use a special brush that can be held more firmly, with all her tools and paint also labelled with the braille system so she could develop agency in her artwork. Her painting is now on display at the GEMS Education corporate office for all to admire and be inspired by. Interestingly, Gogh’s sunflower paintings had a special significance for him, as they communicated 'gratitude' with him for a while in the Yellow House.