Snehankit Helpline celebrates World Braille Day
World Braille Day was celebrated on 4th of January, 2019, to commemorate Louis Braille’s 210th birthday, at the Snehankit Helpline Office at Andheri.
This was a unique celebration because, this time, sighted volunteers who had successfully completed Braille Training courses conducted by Snehankit in the previous year, we invited to participate in the event. Two batches have already completed the training and the third batch will be starting soon. It is the dream of Ms. Parimala Bhat, Snehankit Helpline Founder, to make as many books as possible available in Braille, at affordable cost to school and college students. Towards this goal, the volunteers who have been trained by Snehankit will enable more in-house transcription of books, which will bring down cost for the students.
The celebration was launched in the traditional way with lighting of the lamp and burning of incense sticks in front of a photo of Louis Braille. This was followed by Ms. Parimala Bhat offering floral tribute to the esteemed guests of honour: Ms. Mangala Chowdhari (of Dombivali Centre), Ms. Utkarsha Ladd Mallya and Ms. Mangal Raje (Trustees Committee of Snehankit), Ms Pallavi Shankar (Braille guide and special educator), and Ms Mrunal Gupte. She extended a warm welcome to the volunteers, visitors and staff.
Ms. Sangeeta Vinod gave an informative and inspiring speech about Louis Braille, his contributions to the lives of the visually challenged and how World Braille Day is celebrated to spread awareness about Braille and other forms of accessible communication. She spoke about the importance of Braille and the need for visually challenged students to learn and use it in their daily lives in spite of the onslaught of modern media devices.
A brief film detailing the life of Louis Braille, and a video tribute by Helen Keller, a great disciple of Louis Braille, was also shown.
The participants were shown memorabilia related to Braille, such as the three forms of the letters “A” and “Z”, first version of Braille composed for the French Alphabet and the Commemorative coin issued by the Government of India in 2009, celebrating the 200th birth anniversary of Louis Braille.
The next item on the agenda was the skills demonstration by the volunteers who had trained in Braille under Ms Pallavi Shankar. They demonstrated the use of Stylus and Braille writing on slate. Reading of Braille using a Duxbury printed paper was also done. One of the volunteers had written a poem in Braille and another volunteer read it out aloud to cheers from the audience. Ms. Manasi Paranjpe, a visually challenged student, read out pages from a printed Braille book transcribed by one of the volunteers using an Apple Macbook.
The volunteers came forward to speak about their reasons for learning Braille and how it has helped them gain perspective and inspired them to volunteer for more Braille related work at Snehankit. There was an open exchange of experiences, initial challenges faced while learning Braille and use of various technologies for typing and reading Braille. All the participants enjoyed the sharing of experiences and information. One of the volunteers, Ms. Vrunda Bhagat, who could not be present for the event sent an audio recording of how she had promised herself in her college days that she would learn Braille and how she finally achieved it after many years through Snehankit’s training. She rightly emphasised that Braille is a basic literacy tool for the visually challenged that allows them to gain knowledge and be more independent.
Ms Mangala Chowdhari spoke about the challenges faced in convincing today’s visually impaired students to learn Braille. Braille is not a language but a script, for reading and writing that is equal in value to print for sighted people. This message has to be conveyed to both visually impaired students and their parents. Ms. Pallavi Shankar informed the gathering about the Braille books printed and distributed by Snehankit. She also talked about a revolutionary new technology product called BrailleMe which brings does away with the need to print Braille on paper.
At the conclusion of the programme, Ms. Utkarsha Ladd-Mallya presented a memento to Ms. Mangala Chowdhury as a token of appreciation and gratitude from the Snehankit family. The celebration was in true Snehankit style rounded off with delicious snacks and tea.
World Braille Day is a reminder of the importance of accessibility and independence for those who are blind or visually-impaired. To quote Louis Braille: “Braille is knowledge; Knowledge is power” and “Live without seeing, but be what you are”.