EHRC Expert View
Shimeles Ashagre 
Disability Rights and Rights of Older Persons Department 
Senior Human Rights Officer

The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed January 4 as World Braille Day, to be observed each year beginning in 2019. The objective is to raise awareness of the importance of Braille as a means of communication in fully realizing human rights for blind and partially sighted people. It further affirmed by its resolution that the use of Braille by individuals who are blind or partially sighted. Braille also ensures the communication of valuable information to them. As such, the resolution urges states to take appropriate measures to create a conducive environment for expanding braille literacy.

Blind and partially sighted persons in Ethiopia experience several challenges in accessing education, employment, and in terms of political participation. These challenges are attributable, among other factors, to declining levels of Braille literacy in the country. Though it is the primary responsibility of the government to expand Braille literacy throughout the country, other stakeholders, including organizations for and of blind persons can also advocate for the promotion of braille education at all levels of the educational system including by implementing some of the following measures:

  • Braille is indispensable in enforcing inclusive education at all levels. Most blind and visually sighted students joining higher education institutions do not know how to write in Braille. This is imputable to the lack of instructors qualified to teach Braille to blind and partially sighted children in the first cycle of the educational system. A revisiting of the special needs education curriculum could go a long way in this regard.
  • As indicated in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the government should collaborate with organizations of blind and partially sighted persons. The policy direction of the government should be to teach blind and partially sighted children in an inclusive school setting. However, currently, the schools do not have the appropriate braille materials and qualified personnel.  Engaging relevant associations that have braille-literate members in these efforts would contribute to bridging this gap.
  • Higher educational institutions make inclusion efforts by ensuring access to audio recorders for blind and partially sighted students to record the in-class lectures and lecture notes. While this is the most financially accessible method for the majority of students, a long-term and lasting solution would be to create an overall conducive policy, legal, and financial environment to improve access to the latest technologies and resources.
  • Technological innovations have positive impacts on the lives of blind and partially sighted students. Computer technology backed by assistive software has solved barriers encountered by blind and partially sighted students in their higher education journey.  Job Access with Speech (JAWS) and Nonvisual Desktop Access (NVDA) screen reading applications are some examples. It has been argued that some of this software can also negatively affect the Braille literacy of blind and partially sighted students. Higher education institutions should instead make efforts to ensure the availability of a Refreshable Braille Display Device that automatically converts soft-copy materials on the screens to braille output.
  • The use of an embosser, a machine that converts all visual scripts into Braille, in government and other institutions would also make information available in Braille to persons with disability.