Feature: From raised dots to faraway lands -- improved braille system opens world to the visually impaired

(Xinhua) 16:24, February 01, 2024

KUNMING, Feb. 1 (Xinhua) -- Peng Bin, 56, has been blind since he was nine years old, but that has not held him back from pursuing his career goals.

Using braille, the special education teacher has read thousands of books, learned to play musical instruments, taught music and computer skills to students with visual impairments, and traveled to many parts of the country that he has come across in his reading.

He has also given back to his community, assisting in efforts to standardize braille nationwide.

"Reading braille has greatly enriched my spiritual world and kept me connected to society," said Peng, who has been using the tactile reading and writing system for 44 years. "Many of the places I have toured in books, I have also visited in person with a cane or my guide dog, Pang Hu."

Peng was born and raised in Kunming, capital city of southwest China's Yunnan Province. He works at a school for visually impaired and nonspeaking people in the city, teaching music and computer classes through braille.

Braille consists of raised dots organized in cells. Each cell is made up of one to six raised dots arranged in a rectangle and containing two columns of three dots each. Chinese pinyin, letters, numerals and punctuation marks can be conveyed through different arrangements of the dots.

"When I was hospitalized, my mother read the book 'How the Steel Was Tempered' to me, to encourage me to pull myself together and face my blindness," he said, recalling the time in his childhood.

Peng completed his primary and high school education in the Kunming school at which he now works.

"Learning braille is like acquiring a key that can open the door to endless knowledge from around the world, and it is the blind cane of the spiritual world," he said.

After years of hard work, he was in 1992 admitted to the school of special education at Changchun University in northeast China's Jilin Province to major in music. After graduating, he returned to Kunming to work at his alma mater.

Although Peng benefitted from learning and using braille, he found some inadequacies in the system.

Wang Jingfu, vice chairman and secretary-general of the Yunnan provincial association of persons with visual disabilities, said that before there was an official, standardized national braille system, two braille systems coexisted in China. The two systems had almost no tone marks, resulting in excessive numbers of homophones and leading to significant difficulties in the education of blind people and in the braille publishing industry.

In 2016, Peng participated in a seminar on the standardization of braille in Yunnan as a representative of the Yunnan provincial association of persons with visual disabilities. Together with other representatives of the community, he offered suggestions on tone marking rules for a new braille system, and several of his suggestions were adopted.

In 2018, China released its official standards for braille, which meant tones no longer needed to be guessed by readers. And China's visually impaired population has benefited from a common, unified and standardized braille system.

The ways of reading braille have also become more diversified over the years. In addition to braille books, devices such as computers have been equipped with screen readers -- text-to-speech software applications that read the content of a screen aloud, making reading braille easier.

During his 27 years of teaching, Peng has seen more than 10 of his students with visual impairments accepted to universities to major in music. And those students have gone on to teach at special education schools, work in accessibility testing at IT companies, and join artist groups.

"Braille education gives visually impaired students more choices in life," Peng said.

Zhang Xiwen, a 14-year-old student at the Kunming school, learned to read braille when she was a first-grader.

"The first extracurricular braille book I read was 'Three Days to See,'" in which the protagonist could not see, hear or speak, and her illness was more serious than mine," Zhang said. "But through her hard work, she went to university, mastered five languages, learned to speak and express herself, and became a writer of excellent works."

Zhang said the book taught her that she cannot give in to congenital obstacles or illnesses, and that she wants to become a doctor who saves lives in the future.

China will accelerate its promotion of the use of national general sign language and braille across its special education schools, the China Disabled Persons' Federation said in January.

According to a circular issued by the federation and the Ministry of Education, general sign language and braille will be used widely in schools accommodating students with hearing and visual disabilities by 2025.

"I hope the braille system can be made even more perfect," Peng said.

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Zhong Wenxing)


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