World Congress Braille21 – Idea and First Steps
The Beginning and Growth of an International Project

In November 2009, the so-called World Braille Council met for the first time in Madrid. This working group of the World Blind Union was founded for a period of 4 years, in order to work on a common perspective for the Braille system in a globalized world. In this context the idea came up, to hold an international congress called Braille21, which would focus on possible innovations of Braille as well as chances and risks for the future of this writing system. With this in mind, the title for the World Congress was found easily: »Innovations in Braille in the 21st Century« – in short Braille21.

The Organizer

Inspired by the idea, the German Central Library for the Blind in Leipzig (DZB Leipzig) volunteered to organize and host the event, so that the vision could become reality. Since the beginning of 2010, the DZB is working in the centre of a network of national and international partners, developing concepts, contents, and means of communication for Braille21.

braille reading child

Chances and challenges of Braille today and tomorrow – this is the theme of Braille21.

The Patron

It has been a special success that the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Angela Merkel, has agreed to become patron of the World Congress Braille21. This gives the event the political emphasis needed to make the dream of a world with equal rights for everybody more realistic.

The Themes

The range of topics for Braille21 consists of 6 main themes, one for each dot of the Braille system. They are:

  1. Education and literacy
  2. Vocational training, employment and lifelong learning
  3. Research and development
  4. Improving access to information
  5. Braille as a part of Universal Design
  6. The role of Braille in enabling independent living.

During the congress, these topics will be presented in keynote speeches, lectures, workshops and panel discussions in various languages, as the official conference languages are English, French and Spanish.
In the next issues of the Braille Post you will find out more on the program and actors of the World Congress Braille21

Jenni Handschack
Congress Manager for Braille21

Braille21 – Facts, Facts, Facts

World Congress Braille21 – »Innovations in Braille in the 21st Century«
27th to 30th September 2011
27th September 2011: Braille Day Germany
28th to 30th September 2011: World Congress Braille21
Leipzig, Augustusplatz, central campus of the University of Leipzig
400: users, IT experts, librarians, teachers, volunteers = experts in many different fields around Braille from all over the world
presentations, workshops, panel discussions, exhibitions, competitions and much, much more

Braille Ambassadors from all over the World for Braille21
... or: The Faces of the Congress

Having an international congress on Braille is a good idea, but it remains an abstract one, even though the concrete themes have already been decided on (see leading article).
But how can the ideas be related to daily life? The answer: through people and their lives.

For this reason, we have been looking for people from all over the world, who promote the World Congress Braille21 through their own experiences with Braille and their very personal thoughts about this writing system – our »Braille Ambassadors«. They come from every corner of the earth and have many different professions and fates. Some of them have been blind from birth, others had to learn Braille after becoming blind later in life, others are partially sighted and can read and write print and Braille, and finally there are sighted people who are fascinated by the six-dot-system. Their opinions on Braille are as diverse as the writing system itself.

In each issue of the Braille Post we will introduce one of the Braille Ambassadors.

This time it is:

Maha Khochen (39), disabilities of sight adviser, Tyre/Lebanon, currently resident in London/UK:

»Braille was the light at the end of the tunnel which I was searching for as I struggled to finish my teaching diploma in Lebanon, spending ages and ages to read a single page of print with the remaining sight I had. I strongly believe that Braille21 will be a great opportunity to look at the importance of Braille in the 21st century and will highlight the fundamental role of reading through touch, wherever possible, for those whose sight impairment does not allow access to printed material.«

Would you like to become a Braille Ambassador as well?

If so, send an e-mail to:

Please send us a short text of maximum 150 words that contains the two following statements:

Apart from that we need:

All the ambassadors will appear on our congress website

Five Questions for ...
... Dr. Thomas Kahlisch Director of DZB Leipzig

Dr. Thomas Kahlisch

Host of Braille21: Dr. Thomas Kahlisch

Under this heading, each issue of the Braille Post will feature a personality, whose contributions are of utmost importance for the success of the World Congress Braille21. In the first issue: Dr. Thomas Kahlisch, the blind director of the German Central Library for the Blind (DZB). His institution volunteered to organize and host Braille21.

Why did you decide to take the rather high financial risk to organize Braille21 at DZB Leipzig?

I was encouraged by the huge success of our technical conference DAISY2009. When I suggested to the members of the World Braille Council to host the world congress on Braille, the RNIB and other renowned organizations spontaneously agreed. Until today, we have already gained 17 partners and sponsors who make active and financial contributions to the organization of Braille21.

What are the results you expect from Braille21?

We are currently observing a renaissance of Braille. The diversity of topics, the huge support, and the high quality of the ongoing preparations will make the congress a fantastic place for forging new ideas and innovations. After looking back in 2009, on the 200th anniversary of Louis Braille, we are now facing the challenges of the information age in a creative and self-confident way.

The preparations for Braille21 have already been going on for 9 months. What has impressed you most on this way so far?

The support we’ve been receiving from all over the world. The commitment, the manifold ideas, and the huge enthusiasm of our organizers and partners.

What does Braille mean to you personally?

When I had to learn Braille in 1977, at the age of 14, it was a turning point in my life. During my professional training and university career the dots became an irreplaceable means of communication and the basis of my work. For me, Braille clearly has arrived in the digital age 20 years ago. Although I use speech synthesizers and audio books, in my opinion the dots are still the most reliable key to the world of knowledge.

What event of Braille21 are you most looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to a university campus filled with hundreds of cane users from every corner of the earth, who show their own way of seeing the world with pride and enthusiasm, to many conversations and experiences beside the main conference, and to a cultural event that we’re planning, but that I cannot talk about yet.

Short Biography of Dr. Thomas Kahlisch

Born in
loss of vision
1986 – 1990
Studies of computer science at TU Dresden and the University of Karlsruhe
Doctorate degree
seit 1999
Director of DZB Leipzig

Member Board of the German Federation of the Blind and partially sighted and of the World Braille Council

What’s the idea behind the Braille Post?

When we were looking for a long-term media to prepare people for the contents of the World Congress Braille21, we had the idea to publish this quarterly magazine.
The Braille Post will appear at a regular interval of 3 months from October 2010 on. So the next issues will be published in January, April, July and September 2011. The Braille Post will update you regularly on the progress of our project Braille21; provide background information as well as current news about the Braille system.
We hope you enjoy reading our magazine and are looking forward to your feedback, which you can e-mail us at! Please contact us at this e-mail address as well, if you would like to order the Braille Post for your institution.

Support Innovations in Braille!

Braille21 can only become reality with the help of others. Both big and small aides are welcome! If you would like to support our project, please transfer your donation to the following bank account:

Payee: Förderverein »Freunde der DZB e.V.«
Bank name: Sparkasse Leipzig
Sorting code: 860 555 92
Account number: 1 100 830 010
IBAN: DE44 8605 5592 1100 8300 10
Bank's address: Sparkasse Leipzig, Humboldtstraße 25, 04105 Leipzig, Germany
Reference: Braille21


Deutsche Zentralbücherei für Blinde
zu Leipzig (DZB Leipzig)
Gustav-Adolf-Straße 7
04105 Leipzig
Tel.: + 49 341 7113-0
Fax: + 49 341 7113-125
Editorial Work: Jenni Handschack
Design and Layout: Annette Diener
Photo Credits: Page 1 u. 3: Karsten Sachse/DZB; Page 2: private

The Braille Post is published quarterly until September 2011. The next issue of the Braille Post will appear in January 2011. It will feature many exciting stories and facts around Braille21. Among others, there will be an interview with Jahawar Lal Kaul, Secretary General of the All India Confederation of the Blind (AICB) and the Asian Blind Union (ABU), chair of the World Braille Council.