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Braille Without Borders

Media for the visually impaired.

Photo by Adam Graham

The Genius of Louis Braille

Louis Braille's genius was in realising that reading is something that's done in the brain, the mind and the heart, that the eyes see or fingers feel the letters but the mind brings them to life. He also understood, as Gutenberg did before him, that his technology allowed people to have a private, contemplative relationship with the written word. In some ways technology is no friend to the visually impaired person. It may be convenient to turn printed words into sound, and books may be simpler to produce and make more titles available, but something crucial is lost if we can't turn our ingenuity towards keeping braille alive, and even advancing it. A simple, refreshable book reader for sighted people has been difficult enough to produce, but more valuable than that, and infinitely more useful to society, would be a smart, ecologically sound refreshable braille device.

Colours. Issue #72. Dedicated to the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Colors magazine has devoted an entire issue to blind and visually impaired people. They profile a blind rapper from Texas.

I’m the only blind rapper I know, but I still come and go, flip, screw, get down and get around just like I could see. Bein’ blind is just an inconvenience and I carry myself like I can see. People been telling me, “Man, you got killer flows” and it’s my turn next. I’m getting ready for a 40-city tour and I’m lookin’ for a Grammy. You know my kids need some good food to chew on.

I don’t rap about bein’ blind. Not that I’m ashamed or anything but I don’t want no sympathy claps and I don’t want to use my blindness as a stepping stone. I want my music to represent me. I want people to walk away from my

show wondering to themselves, ‘Was dat cat blind?’

And eighteen year old Ricardo Steimetz, who said: "I had no interest in birds. Then I went blind."

My favourite birds are the ones that sing the most. I guess that makes sense, because I build my relationship with them through sound. The birds that don't sing are graceless. At the moment my favourite birds are the blue ones. Some don't sing when their feathers are molting, or when they get sick with fever or something. They become silent. Spring is the best time of the year for birds, it's when they sing the most. In winter only a few of them sing, but it's ok, it's a cycle.

The blog Search and Destroy has several photographs of pages from the blindness issue of Colors.

Braille Without Borders

Braille Without Borders began as a project in Tibet in 1998. The website Climbing Blind has a story about the origins of Braille Without Borders.

Run by Sabriye Tenberken and her Dutch partner, Paul Kronenberg, instruct about 30 Tibetan students who are blind. They teach them to navigate independently with their canes through the chaos of Lhasa, to weave along narrow streets through moving cars and mopeds, around construction sites never protected, and over random holes in the streets, several meters deep, filled with dirty water and excrement. They’re also taught Tibetan Braille and how to use computers with voice synthesizers. Most importantly, she instills in her students a sense of self-respect and hope. Sabriye funds her center on a shoestring budget, only recently having the funds to buy the school building with an advance from her newly released book, My Path Leads to Tibet It is a small international development organisation which aims to create training programs and Braille book printing houses for blind and visual impaired people. Braille is used as the basic tool to impart literacy to blind people. "Without Borders" on one hand means BWB can work anywhere in the world, but more important BWB doesn't want to set any borders for blind people.

There is also now a project in Kerala in India.


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Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

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