Monday, January 05, 2009

Louis Braille birth bicentennary

January 4th 2009 was the birth centennary of Louis Braille.

Another anniversary which would have come and gone for visually un-impaired (In light of this post, "sighted" sounds incorrect) people like me. I saw it on the news and read about it. And my visually impaired (VI) colleague had mentioned that he would be taking part in a procession which would incidentally start quite close to my home, on Sunday. I did toy with the idea of joining it. But then what with the now on- now off auto ban and Hazra more being the nerve centre (a huge auto depot and close proximity to TMC chief Ms. Bannerjee's home), I decided against. The rally did happen, peacefully and some 700 people had participated and the procession ended at Rabindra Sadan.

This morning, I saw him standing near the large room usually used for training and workshops. "Can I help you with something?". I have this urge to help him although he is very self sufficient and makes the long commute from home and back alone, everyday. Infact, it's me who needs frequent help in navigating the crazy traffic on Kolkata roads.

"Actually, I am telling everyone (who passes by) that we - he and RS the other VI collegue - are holding a small exhibition of our Braille Unit (the NGO where I work is probably the only NGO with a braille printing unit, atleast in this part of India) on the ocassion of Louis Braille's bicentennary. The exhibition consisted of a variety of tools and equipments, a good majority of which he had made himeself and now are available in the market were laid out on tables. The rest of the staff went around and asked questions about each equipment and its usage. Most of them were teaching materials. Braille alphabet in bengali and english using bindis; Set squares, protractor and even a compass, clock, abacus etc adapted for the VI. There was a set of braille playing cards. Identical to normal ones except the card - say four of hearts written in braille in a corner. We had great fun taking out cards at random and showing them to S and each time, he answered correctly: he is fluent in braille! One of the older staff told me to stop testing him. Afterall, he made the set. "We needed S to make a fourth for playing 29 (a game quite similar to bridge)!!

The exhibition was an eye-opener, literally. Not very different from other people am I? I didn't even remember. And that despite spending the best part of the last two months helping to develop various materials which talk about Inclusion of PWDs (people with disabilities) all the time. Inclusion and not assistance.

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