January DEI

World Braille Day 2022:
Enhancing our Vision of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Written by Sarah Duggan

Celebrated since January 4, 2019, World Braille Day honors the human rights and extraordinary contributions of blind and partially sighted individuals all over the world. Designated by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) as an international holiday, World Braille Day spreads awareness of the unique challenges faced by individuals with a vision impairment, such as digital accessibility and literacy inequality. In light of these unique challenges, the creation of the braille alphabet has made literacy a reality for blind and partially sighted individuals as they navigate educations, careers, and day-to-day communications.

Born in France on January 4, 1809, Louis Braille became blind as a result of a childhood accident. He received a scholarship to attend France’s Royal Institute for Blind Youth (now referred to as the National Institute for Blind Youth) when he was ten years old.

Fifteen-year-old Louis developed the braille alphabet in 1821, basing this invaluable method of tactile communication on French military veteran Charles Barbier de la Serre’s night-time military code consisting of twelve raised dots. This purely phonetic system allowed soldiers to transmit and read messages without lamps or verbal communication, therefore evading enemy detection.

Since Barbier’s night writing was complex, lacked punctuation, and made the spelling of words a troublesome process, Louis decided to create a simpler, more efficient system based on a six-dot cell encompassing letters, numbers, symbols, and punctuation marks. Louis passed away in 1852, two years before France acknowledged braille as the official medium of communication for the blind. The braille alphabet was soon endorsed by the World Congress for the Blind as the national system for reading and writing for the blind in 1878.

Louis Braille’s revolutionary code has paved the way for blind and partially sighted individuals to manage personal business affairs with more independence, experience a more accessible workplace, and embrace creativity through the sharing of ideas. Today, braille remains a fundamental form of communication for individuals with a vision impairment through the equitable dissemination of essential information, such as bank statements, legal documentation, IRS forms, restaurant menus, employment applications, educational materials, and more.

January 4, 2022, marks the fourth year World Braille Day has been celebrated across the globe. As we enhance our vision of diversity, equity, and inclusion this New Year, let’s take to heart the empowering words of Louis Braille himself: “Access to communication in the widest sense is access to knowledge … We must be treated as equals – and communication is the way we can bring this about.”