Books open up a world of adventure and possibility for children and at the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) we feel strongly that no child should be denied this opportunity, simply because they cannot see. When DK approached RNIB with the idea to make a range of non-fiction braille books we were delighted that a mainstream publisher had thought so carefully about the needs of blind and partially sighted children.
Working with RNIB, the DK team has developed a series of books called DK Braille, aimed at children from four to 12 years old. These books contain braille, clear print and tactile images, making them inclusive as well as educational and fun.
As a braille reader myself, the idea of being able to go to a mainstream book shop or well-known online book seller and purchase a book that is accessible is very exciting. For most people there are limitless numbers of books available to be purchased and read at home, however, for a child with a visual impairment only 7% of children’s books are currently accessible in alternative formats. It is estimated that there are around 25,000 children between 0 and 16 years old in Britain with sight loss and a further 2m estimated blind and partially sighted people overall.
RNIB, along with other organisations, has a library of braille, large print and audio books for loan but this is just not quite the same as owning your own books. Having a bookshelf at home of well-loved books was a dream of mine as a child and now as a parent the importance of reading has taken on a whole new significance. I want to be able to read to and with my son as he grows up. I want to show him inspiring and exciting books that will capture both his and my imagination.
It is so important to get little ones interested in books from a young age and to nurture that love of books. As a child who learned to read braille, I just could not get enough books. My school ordered books from various braille libraries but my hunger for new books soon overtook the availability of children’s braille books. Now I want to instil that love of books in my son and I am faced with a new challenge - I need to find books that are in braille, so I can read them to him, but also in print for him to follow the words and with bright tactile images that I can explain.
Technology has gone a long way in helping to make more books available in braille or large print, but images are fundamental in helping a child develop a sense of the world around them. For a child unable to see these images, tactile pictures can help the imagination to grow.
This is why it is so important for other publishers to follow in the footsteps of DK and expand the market of accessible and inclusive books. The appeal of these books is far wider than just that of braille reading children and adults, as sighted children and adults can read and enjoy this series too.
For me the inclusiveness of this series embodies the values that we as a society are striving towards, that is to improve literacy for all children. I feel privileged to have worked closely with DK and to have seen this project develop. We at RNIB hope to be able to do this with many more publishers in the future, further opening up the world of books to visually impaired children and parents alike.
Claire Maxwell is the RNIB's Reading Services manager for braille, working with professionals in the field of visual impairment advising on braille literacy.
The RNIB Library is the largest of its kind in Europe and is free. There are over 60,000 audio, braille, giant print, and music items in the collection.