CHENNAI: The biggest step in the progress of the visually impaired took place two centuries ago with Loius Braille’s invention. After 206 years and rapid technological advancements braille remains the most important tool for the blind, and yet schools and students are still battling for resources.
Saranya, a Class 11 student from Little Flower Convent for the Blind and Deaf, reads Economics lessons confidently in English from her braille textbook. But these textbooks are printed on the school campus at their cost, with investment on printers, volunteers to read out the material and three visually impaired girls hired to do the conversion into braille.
“The textbooks are available only in Tamil medium from the government. But since we have an English medium section, we have to print it ourselves,” said Sister Jacintha, the principal.
At the St Louis School for the Blind and Deaf, there are 80 students in English medium and they manage without textbooks by taking notes from volunteers who read out from the textbooks. “Our demand for free English braille books still hasn’t been met,” said Brother Innasi from St Louis School.
Braille textbooks in Tamil medium that are printed by the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped (NIVH) are supplied free for Classes 1 to 6, and from 7 to 12 at subsidised prices. But since government schools for the visually handicapped are Tamil medium, there is no printing of English braille textbooks.
“There are few takers for English braille and the cost of transcribing can be quite high. In States like Andhra Prashesh, some government blind schools have English medium sections so we print English braille too,” said an official from NIVH, Chennai.
English braille textbooks are printed at places like Ramakrishna Mission in Coimbatore and Indian Association for the Blind at Madurai, and can be bought by schools, again at their own cost.
Although many students use class notes and audiobooks to study, teachers feel braille is important for better understanding. “Many of us prefer to read for ourselves in order to understand something and remember, rather than just listen. Many vision impaired students tell me they can remember better if they have read it rather than heard it on audiobooks,” said Regina, a teacher at Little Flower. Brother Innsasi added, “Braille is their life and nothing can replace it.”