“We all need to feel like we have control of our lives. Of course you can never have total control. But being literate gives you a level of autonomy that’s really important.”
The autonomy that Paul Sullivan, of blind literacy group The Braillists, is talking about is often denied to the blind or visually impaired. A lack of physical and social support means that a significant proportion of the blind population – that’s 360,000 people in the UK according to the RNIB – are likely to be disproportionately hampered and isolated in day to day life as compared to sighted people.
The Braillists operate as regional networks in Bristol, Reading and Dublin as grassroots, community groups, motivated by the desire to improve braille literacy. They do this through influencing policy, raising awareness and garnering commercial support for new technologies.
They started in March 2015 in Bristol, when social entrepreneur Steph Tyszka was tasked with setting up a user group to test the prototype for The Canute, a new piece of braille technology created by Bristol Braille Technology CIC.
The Canute is a multiline refreshable braille e-reader that contains four lines of text, each containing 28 cells per line, compared to standard braille readers which contain a total of just 40 characters.