Braille Literacy and Numeracy in Uganda

Braille Literacy and Numeracy in Uganda

Reading Braile

Braille is a system of codes consisting of raised dots which forms the means of communication for people with blindness, deciphered by touch. The braille system was invented by a French teacher, who was blind, called by Louis Braille. The invention was done in 1820s when he was a teacher at the Valentin Hauy School in Paris.

The braille system is made up of what are called braille cells. Each braille cell is a tiny tall rectangle with two columns and three rows of dots. The maximum number is six dots and the minimum is one. The empty braille cell is found as a space for separating braille signs.

Braille came into formal use in school in Uganda with the start of formal education in St. Francis School for the Blind, Soroti in 1955. Since then, there have been many schools opened up: a few other special schools and majority inclusive/integrated schools. Braille has remained a dominant medium of writing for the great majority of learners who have blindness.

Braille literacy and numeracy refer to knowledge of English (language braille) and braille mathematics. The former is basically textual in form and the latter is concerned with numerical quantities. In a simpler way, they refer to what is traditionally known as English Braille and Braille mathematics.

The commonest devices for writing braille in Uganda are the braille slate and stylus and the Perkins Brailler. The former is fairly cheap and may be found in most braille kits sold on the open market, which comprise sets of devices used by learners who are blind in mathematics and braille literacy. The latter is rather expensive, but many schools have the Perkins Brailler, usually bought by the schools, the government, private developing agencies and individuals.

In 1997, the then Uganda National Institute of Special Education (UNISE), now the Faculty of Special Needs and Rehabilitation of Kyambogo University, initiated a move towards mass production of braille for schools, Disability People’s Organisations and individual consumers. For example, by 1999, 187,508 braille pages had been produced for UNISE itself, NGOs of and for persons with disability, government ministries, universities and individuals (Kutosi, 1999). Out of these, the Ministry of Education and Sports was the highest consumer with 159,800 pages, mainly going to textbooks which were distributed to the various inclusive, integrated and special schools in the country. The high level consumption arose from the demands of Universal Primary Education (UPE), which the government of Uganda implemented in 1997.

The era of ICT has seen new technologies utilized to access braille in the country. The Ministry of Education and Sports has equipped some schools, which enroll learners with visual impairment, with modern equipment such as embossers and accompanying software, Low Vision Devices to supplement vision of some students and screen reader software of various versions.

The country follows the British braille system, as bequeathed from the former colonial master, United Kingdom. In some cases, materials written in American English Braille (English Braille American Edition) are received in the country and utilized. These are mainly biblical materials produced by American braille producing agencies. Currently, there are calls from some quarters to move to the new system, Unified English Braille (UEB). UEB is a hybrid of English Braille, Braille mathematics, Nemeth Code for Braille mathematics and Science notation, braille science and computer braille. Music braille has been excluded from UEB and remains as before. Some countries have already adopted UEB and these include New Zealand, India and Kenya to mention a few. The outlook is that eventually, every country that uses English Braille will have to adopt UEB for uniformity.

Though ICT inventions have made it possible to access braille online or on computer, printed braille is still required for a great majority of persons who use it. So there is need to plan for production of books and other hard copy learning materials for the users.

By Dr George Willy Kutosi