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World Braille Day: Pandemic shows importance of information access for all

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A student in her classroom in Paraguay, learning how to read and write braille

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how critical it is to ensure essential information is accessible to everyone, including people living with disabilities.  On World Braille Day, observed on 4 January, UN agencies have been highlighting how they are promoting a disability-inclusive response to the crisis. 

Braille is a tactile language used by blind and partially sighted people. Combinations of raised dots represent each letter and number, and even musical, mathematical and scientific symbols, so that books and periodicals can be read through touch.    

The system was invented by Frenchman Louis Braille nearly 200 years ago. 

In a post on Twitter, the President of the UN General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, commended Braille as a tool for freedom of expression, access to information and social inclusion.

“This has never been truer than in the times of isolation brought on by #COVID19,” he wrote.

Access for all 

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates at least one billion people globally have a near or distance vision impairment that could have been prevented, or has yet to be addressed. 

Life under lockdown has posed challenges for the visually impaired, including in terms of independence and isolation, according to the UN.   

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COVID-19 has also revealed the importance of having information available in Braille and audio formats, otherwise many persons with disabilities could face higher risk of contamination. The pandemic has also underscored the need to ramp up digital accessibility for all people. 

Disability-inclusive response 

During the pandemic, several UN agencies have been implementing good practices towards a disability-inclusive response and disseminating information in Braille. 

For example, in Malawi, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) has produced more than 4,000 braille materials on awareness and prevention of COVID-19. 

Meanwhile, in Ethiopia, the UN human rights office, OHCHR, disseminated audio information, as well as education and communication materials, to media professionals, and developed Braille versions of the educational messages.  

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has also produced guidance notes in multiple languages and accessible formats, including Braille and ‘easy-to-read’ versions.  

Its note on COVID-19: Considerations for Children and Adults with Disabilities addresses issues that include access to information; water, sanitation and hygiene; healthcare, education, child protection, and mental health and psychosocial support. 

Awareness of human rights 

The UN General Assembly established World Braille Day in 2019 to raise awareness of the role Braille has in the full realization of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the blind and partially sighted. 

Braille is essential in the context of education, freedom of expression and opinion, as well as social inclusion, as outlined under article 2 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

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