A Strong Voice for Braille
A Portrait of Judith Dixon – Opening Speaker at Braille21

Judith Dixon

Judith Dixon's dream: access to braille – always and everywhere in the world.

She loves online shopping and is always in the forefront when it comes to communicating new ways of reading for visually impaired people. She has a private collection of 250 slates and styluses from all over the world. She holds a doctorate degree in clinical psychology, thinks that braille on paper is the most reliable way of taking down addresses and phone numbers, and mixes old and new braille technologies as efficiently as possible. She is blind, travels all around the world for business and privately. She is the chairperson of the Braille Authority of North America, secretary of the International Council on English Braille and editor of the book »Braille into the next Millennium«.

This impressive person is Judith Dixon. She works as Consumer Relations Officer at the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. / USA. She has accepted the invitation from the World Braille Council and will give the opening speech at the World Congress Braille21. Judith Dixon will speak about the chances and challenges of a global library for braille readers. There are big questions to be asked and answered: Which role do Braille offers from libraries play today and in the future ? How can we overcome the book famine and make our dream of every book being available in braille at any time come true? How can access to braille in inclusive public and scientific libraries be guaranteed?

Judith Dixon says about herself that she feels strongly attached to braille and libraries. She has been working in her current position for almost 30 years and has always attended to all aspects of library services for people with print disabilities. She promotes developments in new technologies with energy, enthusiasm and creativity, and convinces visually impaired people of their advantages. She has observed big changes over three decades: »When I started to work for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, we had books in braille. Today there are electronic books in braille; braille from the internet, there is even braille on mobile phones and cash machines. In spite of the constant hand-wringing about braille losing influence, I find that now there is more braille available than ever before, and that there are more opportunities than ever to read braille than in the past.« With her profound knowledge of braille and the situation of libraries all over the world, Judith Dixon is an ideal speaker for a keynote on »Braille, Libraries and Education«. She hopes to give the importance of braille a strong voice at the World Congress Braille21.

A Bright Spot in the Dark
Education is the only Chance to overcome Poverty

Christ Church School

In the German Church School, blind and visually impaired people are taught together with children from poor families. The teachers have specialised educations to fulfil the needs of all children.

It is one of the 50 least developed countries of the earth, drought and hunger are omnipresent, and the medical attention is poor. Those who grow up in Ethiopia have little prospects of escaping poverty. For them, education is the only chance.

However, education cannot be taken for granted in developing countries – even less for visually impaired children. Only one in ten of them can go to school there, and without training most of these children do not have a choice and have to go begging.

So the German Church School in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Abeba, which is supported by CBM, has become a bright spot in the dark. Like the two girls in the photo, at this school visually impaired children are educated together with students from very poor families. With its inclusive program the school has become a role model for the whole of Ethiopia. The visually impaired students learn to read and write in braille. Their mothers and fathers are very proud of their offspring, as many of the children's parents are illiterate themselves. In Ethiopia, only 50 percent of the men and 23 percent of the women can read. In the German Church School children can attend classes without having to pay because – thanks to the financial support from CBM – their education can be provided for.

In Africa people with severe visual impairments usually have to face unemployment and poverty. The school prevents this from happening and provides the children with unique chances of finding a good job, teaching them to read and write in braille and to use a computer. Apart from that they get normal schooling within the Ethiopian educational system and take the state exams.

In 2009, 46 visually impaired children were enrolled at the school, which was founded by a German speaking Protestant community. After eight years of schooling at the German Church School, many of the visually impaired students even manage to go to a secondary school and finally to university. That way they get the opportunity to live independently and overcome poverty.

In 2009, CBM supported 81 schools for blind and deafblind children worldwide. That way CBM supported the schooling of approximately 19,200 blind, deafblind and partially sighted children. Through the promotion of programs that prepare for the labour market, CBM aims at facilitating young visually impaired people their transfer from education to professional life.

Braille Ambassadors from all over the World for Braille21
For Verónica Gonzalez Bonet, braille grade 2 is indispensable

In each issue of the Braille Post we introduce one of the Braille Ambassadors. They are people from all over the world who share their positive experiences using the braille system. Expressing their very personal views, they encourage the discussion on braille and thereby bring the World Congress Braille21 into every corner of the earth. In this issue you can read from Verónica Gonzalez Bonet. She works as a TV journalist in Buenos Aires / Argentine.

»Since I was a girl, my family taught me to love books. When I learned braille, I read all the books and magazines that came to my hands. Today, I am a journalist. Despite having good technological skills I believe that braille cannot be replaced. I work at the public TV. To record a report, I write it first at the computer and print it then in braille to work on it profoundly. It is necessary to know braille grade 2. It allows writing and reading faster. Braille is crucial as it gives a clearer picture of how to write than screen readers, it is essential to incorporate spelling rules, to take notes, read stories to nephews and nieces – in my case.

I think it is imperative that we have conferences about braille, to dimension its importance, to review the way it is taught and to preserve it as an essential communication system for those who have visual disabilities.«

5 Questions for ...
... Jenni Handschack, Congress Manager Braille21

Under this heading, each issue of the Braille Post features a personality, whose contributions are of utmost significance for the success of the World Congress Braille21. This time it is Jenni Handschack, congress manager at the German Central Library for the Blind (DZB Leipzig).

What are your most important tasks and what are you dealing with right now?

My most important task is to keep track of everything. Last year I mainly dealt with planning Braille21 – making out contents, developing structures, gaining project partners, introducing Braille21 to the public.

Now it is time to add actual contents. The registration of exhibitors and speakers has started, communication with the expert committee has become a priority, and at a later stage the program will be drafted.

Your field of activity is exciting and rich in variety. What do you like about your job?

The diversity brought about by the different project phases. In the beginning it was planning and conceptualizing, by now communicating and organizing have become more important. A very exciting aspect of my job is working with different networks because Braille21 can only become reality through cooperation between DZB staff, our many partners within Germany, and our international advisors.

What does braille mean to you as a sighted person?

When I started to work for DZB, I took part in a braille course for beginners. Although it was hard, I did manage to resist the temptation of reading the dots with my eyes and tried to read with my fingers. It really worked! Therefore braille has made me sure that I will always be able to read, even if I were to lose my sight one day. And now, whenever I come across braille in public spaces, I am happy to understand what all those dots actually mean.

Jenni Handschack

Keeps the track: congress manager Jenni Handschack

Preparing for Braille21 you have been in touch with many people from all over the world. Is there a person you would like to meet more closely?

Considering the huge number of exciting people from all over the world, I find it difficult to choose. I am eagerly looking forward to meeting all the guests we will receive here in Leipzig. I am especially looking forward to meeting our Braille Ambassadors, who are bringing Braille21 into every corner of the earth.

Which event of the congress do you especially recommend to the readers of the Braille Post?

I am very much looking forward to a public cultural event concluding the congress. On Friday, 30th September, the traditional motet at Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church will be a common concert of the famous St Thomas Boys Choir and Pro Puncto, a quartet of blind singers. That will be another opportunity to show the world that braille means education, culture and social relationships.

Short Biography of Jenni Handschack

Born in
2002 - 2008
Career of cultural studies at the universities of Leipzig and Rome with a focus on cultural management
Since 2008
congress manager at DZB Leipzig

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
E-mail: info@dzb.de
Website: www.dzb.de
Editorial Work: Jenni Handschack, Katja Lucke, Gabi Schulze
Design and Layout: Annette Diener, Cornelia Colditz
Photo Credits: photo 1 private; photo 2 CBM; photo 3 private; photo 4 Sachse/DZB

The next issue of the Braille Post will appear in June 2011. It will feature many exciting stories around Braille21. Read, among others, comprehensive information about the program of the World Congress Braille21.