On January 4, Blind Low Vision NZ is celebrating World Braille Day to raise awareness for the importance of Braille. The universally-accepted language of raised dots gives blind, deafblind and low vision adults and children independence and equal access to written communications.

World Braille Day celebrates the birthday of Louis Braille, the creator of Braille born in France in 1809. At the age of three, Louis had an accident and lost his sight. He began developing the language at age 12, and by 15 he had developed Braille, based on a note-taking system that French soldiers used to communicate in the dark.

After years of refining, Braille spread around the world and has been taught in New Zealand since 1890 – back then by the Jubilee Institute for the Blind, now known as Blind Low Vision NZ who continue to teach it today.

“Braille opens the world up to the blind, deafblind and low vision community. From public spaces and workplaces to entertainment and leisure it’s a vital source of communication,” says Blind Low Vision NZ Chief Executive John Mulka.

“At Blind Low Vision NZ, we are proud to empower blind, deafblind and low vision New Zealanders with access to literacy, numeracy and even music in Braille. It is a powerful tool and we thank our donors for their support to enable us to teach Braille, and provide resources in Braille and other accessible formats to our community.”

It’s estimated that 80% of blind, deafblind or low vision people in full-time work read Braille but outside of workplaces, many other New Zealanders are exposed to Braille and other tactile signals every day. Raised dots on elevator buttons, signage and even bank cards are just a few examples.

One New Zealander reaping the benefits of Braille is Dunedin local, Julie Woods. Known as ‘That Blind Woman’, Julie has been learning adaptive skills since being declared blind in 1997.

Feeling isolated by not being able to read the written word, she started learning Braille and immediately fell in love with it.

Julie encourages all New Zealanders to take a moment and consider where Braille is used in everyday life, and the magic that lies in accessing information through your fingertips.

Julie herself is sharing the magic in her mission to write 1 million names in Braille.

“By connecting the world to this important language, I am making amazing connections with all the people I meet. I am truly grateful to Blind Low Vision NZ for the opportunity to learn Braille and to now be sharing it with others.”

Blind Low Vision NZ offers support for those wanting to learn Braille or access resources in Braille, including an Accessible Library with 5,912 titles in Braille. Braille can be produced manually, electronically or mechanically and in 2022, Blind Low Vision NZ produced nearly 70,000 items in this format.

If you know someone who would benefit from Blind Low Vision NZ’s services, you can get in touch with Blind Low Vision NZ directly by calling 0800 24 33 33 or asking your optometrist for a referral.