Braille literature: a human right at the price of gold

Braille literature: a human right at the price of gold

Braille allows blind people to read and write autonomously, but due to its price and poor variety, access to books and literature is highly limited. This makes it very difficult to approach culture and have a decent education, and further restricts their independence, as they need to have someone helping them to do such a simple thing as studying.

A bit of history

Louis Braille, a French pedagogue, invented this writing and reading system in the 19th century. He was born seeing, but at the age of three, he lost his vision in an accident. During his life, he was a very gifted student in areas such as mathematics, music, and linguistics.

He had been taught how to read by his father using marked letters on a piece of wood, and later in life, he learnt the Barbier method – also known as “night writing” – a military communication system that allowed the soldiers to read at night without the need of any lights so that they would not be seen. An 11-year-old Braille decided to create a system for him and his blind peers to communicate. He based his new method on the Barbier system, and the braille alphabet was born.

From its creation, the braille alphabet has gone through some changes to make it simpler to use – like contractions for some groups of letters – as the amount of space needed is much wider than that of conventional alphabets.

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“Braille Bokeh” by lissalou66 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

But, what is really braille?

Contrary to what many people may think, braille is not a language itself. It is, in fact, a system to represent conventional alphabets in a way blind people can make use of it easily. That is, any language can be represented by this alphabet, and anything can be “translated” into braille. English will be English, Irish will be Irish, and Mandarin will remain Mandarin.

There is an equivalence between the Latin alphabet – the one we use in English and many other western languages like French, Italian, Spanish, or German – and the braille alphabet. That means that a blind person will not understand every single piece of braille, as they can be written in a foreign language for them.

This system consists of a series of slots with raised dots. There were up to 64 combinations of dots that included letters, punctuation marks, numbers, capitalised letters, or even musical notes. Now, the system has been extended to be able to incorporate the special signs of every language – like accent marks, or cedillas – and mathematical signs too. That has made it reach up to 256 combinations to this day.

However, braille adapts to every other alphabet out there; so, variations of it are found across the world to fit each language and its written representation.

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“Braille Font” by Cea. is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What is the matter with literature in braille?

Sadly, it is not common to find books transcribed in braille for those who need them, and the few out there are extremely expensive. Why does this happen? Well, the main problem is that producing books for the blind is not a profitable business. The cost of production is high, and the demand is low.

Thus, you can find hardly any titles beyond the most famous ones, and those are usually at a price not many people can afford.

Producing a book in braille costs a fortune because this alphabet takes a lot of space, so a 200-word printed book gets doubled or tripled in pages. Also, the mechanism used to create the dots is much more complex and scarce than a regular printer, raising the price even more. Searching for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in both methods, you can see how the regular one can be around 10 euros, while the braille one is six times that amount – and that is only if you can find it, which is kind of difficult.

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“First Ever Braille Library in Paradise, Mauritius” by Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

To that, we must also add the obstacles for blind children at schools. Their education is cut short because they cannot access books made for them. Regular school books are expensive per se, but braille school books are a luxurious item only reachable for a few – and that generally relies on subventions.

Also, carrying around books in braille is a hard task. The weight and size of these books do not allow you to bring them with you on the train, the plane, or even to a café.

What can be done?

The optimal solution – especially for blind children at schools – would be for the governments to work on the matter and equal the prices of braille books to meet the standard of those printed in regular alphabets. By subsidizing them, more people would have access to a decent education.

While that would be ideal, in the meantime there are other options for blind people: audiobooks are a trend now, and they can take advantage of that, as almost any book can be found at a very good price. This alternative, as good as it may sound, is still not the greatest. Audiobooks take away a huge part of the experience of reading, and not everyone enjoys them.

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“BraiBook” by BraiBook

A very good option now is found in devices like BraiBook. This tool acts similarly to an eBook and can carry up to 8 GB of data. Not only can you read books, but you can put your own documents in braille, or even learn braille with its help. It is also more practical to carry around, as it is small and lightweight. The price is €445, which is not bad if we take into account that a single book in braille can be at least around €100 – and that would be for a cheap one. You can also contribute with a donation, which will allow for blind children at schools to acquire one!

Thanks to this technology, there is a ray of hope for the future of culture and education for the blind. Funding is now the main issue, as it is not accessible for all just yet. We can only wish for it to succeed and reach all of those who need it.

About the author

Julia Villanueva

Spaniard living in Ireland, passionate about literature, learning languages, and knowing different cultures.

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