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the First Transformation in Access to Information for the Visually Impaired

Sokeain Kirjasto 1961<br />Helsingin Sokeainkoulun oppilaat käyttivät ahkerasti Sokeainkirjaston palveluja.

History of Accessibility

Museum amanuensis Kari Huuskonen:

What Is the Museum of the Visually Impaired?

The Museum of the Visually Impaired is a special museum of the history of disability founded in the 1990s. It is located in the Itäkeskus district of Helsinki, in Iiris (a service and activity centre for people with visual impairments), which was built in 2003.

The basic idea of the Museum of the Visually Impaired is to increase knowledge of the history, traditions and contemporary culture of the visually impaired community. To achieve this goal, we collect, record and study the history of visually impaired and the history of the work for the benefit of the visually impaired.

We make history available for the general public in three ways: through exhibition activities, publishing and content production, and through History Club activities.

What Do the Museum's Collections Include?

In our collections there are objects, various documents, video recordings and photographs. The collections shed light in diverse ways on the history of education for the blind, traditional professional fields, access to information for the visually impaired, everyday aids and ngo−based work for the visually impaired from the later half of 19th century to the present day. Contemporary culture is also being recorded, and the work is still ongoing.

The development of everyday aids has been enormous as new innovations are being developed, so the equipment become rapidly obsolete. They enter the museum's collections all the time.

What Was the First Transformation in Access to Information for the Visually Impaired?

Access to information for the visually impaired has as long a history as humanity. Efforts have always been made to solve the problem of how the visually impaired could acquire information. The history and development of the modern period begins in the Paris of the late 18th century.

Valentin Hauy, in particular , began to pay attention to how to bring visually impaired children and young people into the circle of unified literacy. The first transformation in access to information was related to this.

They had to begin to develop tools for writing and, on the other hand, consider how to make the written material readable for the visually impaired. Prior to this, reading with fingers was the way for the blind and severely visually impaired to obtain information.

At that point, they started to think about what embossing could be like, and even tried concave writing.

What Kind of Embossing systems there were?

Braille text

Three systems rose above the rest. At first, the usual Latin letters were raised and by feeling them, reading was somehow possible, but writing was problematic.

The second system was developed in the 1840s by the Englishman William Moon, whose eyesight deteriorated in his twenties. Moon developed his system from ordinary Latin letters in such a way that the character set consisted of geometric shapes, the circle, the straight line, the triangle and the semi−circle.

The peculiarity of the Moon writing was that the first line was read from left to right, the next line from right to left, and so on, like a zigzag.

The third embossing system was braille writing, which, unbeknownst to William Moon, already existed when he was developing his own system. The Braille system had not yet gained popularity by then.

When and Who Developed the Current Braille Writing?

The Frenchman Louis Braille (1809 − 1852) developed the braille system that bears his name. He was blinded at the age of 3 while playing in his father's workshop. Father was a saddlemaker.

Braille was admitted to the Paris School for the Blind, where various writing systems were already in place. One of them was Barbier's nightwriting, which was a 12−point system developed for military purposes. Young Braille realized that it could be reduced to a 6−point system that could encompass all the letters.

By the mid−1820s, he had been able to form the alphabet and punctuation marks. Gradually, the system evolved and began to be called the Braille system, or braille. For worldwide use, it did not spread until the 1850s. Today, braille is the standard everywhere.

How Did Blind Education Begin?

Education for the blind began in institutional form in the late 18th century in France. To Finland the idea spread through the rest of Europe and the Nordic countries, and the first school for the blind was founded in the 1860s in Helsinki for Swedish−speaking children. Finnish−speaking children got a school in Kuopio in 1871.

Education for the blind was in boarding school format until the 1970s, when integration began alongside with the schools for the blind. Nowadays, children are mainly included in general education.

Reads a Braille Book
A Young Man Reads a Braille Book Braille Literature helps in the pastoral care of the blind and the deaf-mute blind.
näkövammaisten liitto

What Was the Second Transformation in Access to Information for the Visually Impaired and What Were Its Effects?

In the early 20th century, people began to think about whether books could be available on record or tapes to make reading easier. Magnetophone experiments were already carried out in the late 19th century, but the technology was so new that it was not until the 1950s that such kind of tape recorders bacame available which could record entire books.

Braille books take up a huge amount of space. The Bible takes up three shelf meters, but only a small box of reel−to−reel tapes, which at that time was the recording medium, was needed.

That was the beginning of the reign of audiobooks. It was thought that audiobooks would completely supplant Braille, but both have been needed and they support each other.

Who Produced Audio Tapes for the Visually Impaired?

In the beginning, three institutions were developing the system: the then Central Union of the Blind and the Sotasokeat (the war blind) association, as well as the Books for the Blind association, now known as the Celia Library.

Subsequently, the Celia Library has taken care of the practical arrangements. In the early stages, it was not a state library and needed subscribers who contributed to the costs.

Today, Celia itself has been able to produce and finance the operations. The production has diversified in such a way that there are a lot of small recording studios involved. The Association for the Visually Impaired also has a recording studio where books are produced. Celia produces and borrows the material, but it can also be purchased from various operators.

Now there is a huge boom around audiobooks, and general publishing houses are also making audiobooks.

What Was the Selection of Audiobooks Like and What Is It Like Now?

Since its inception, classics of the time and works of fiction have been read as audiobooks, the principles have been the same as in other libraries. Initially, the emphasis was on educational literature.

When books for the visually impaired were only in Braille, what was appropriate for the blind, was carefully controlled. The selection was heavily Christian−oriented, with only some tried and tested classics in addition. With the advent of audiobooks in the 50s, the spectrum grew a lot, but even then, the vast majority of the selection was reputable books.

Nowadays, all kinds of books are available as audiobooks, there is really no censorship.


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