In every nation and every city across the globe, there are people with blindness and visual impairment, a 2021 report by the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness putting the number of people with blindness at 43 million and those with visual impairment at 295 million. For centuries, these people unfortunately lived in societies that did not put their needs first with tools that enabled their lives.
Fortunately, in 1824, a French inventor Louis Braille invented the braille writing system to help people with vision problems to read, a system of dots forming alphabets that can be felt using a finger, and a major step in creating more inclusive tools and societies. Today, braille is widely used in books, labels, signs, ATMs, and others.
Hence, it's easy to see why many in Saudi Arabia have been calling for eateries to adopt the braille system for their menus. One such call is being led by Maha Al-Sharif, head of a team from the volunteer administration at Al-Ahyaa Centers Association in Mecca, "Rouh Makkah." This was made to coincide with the ongoing World Braille Day celebrations.
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In fact, what inspired Al-Sharif to advocate for the braille system stemmed from her personal experience. At a restaurant, she saw a visually impaired customer having his menu read out to him. Commenting on the matter, the associate leader, Nourah Al-Maliki, stated that the braille system would help assimilate Saudis with vision problems into society, a key goal of the Kingdom's Vision 2030 plan.
Currently, Cafe Atrab has become the first to support Rouh Makkah's ongoing initiative. "This is volunteer work and national duty. We welcome at any time our visually impaired sisters and brothers who will have a 50 percent discount on drinks for life," the cafe's owner, Manal Al-Maalawi, told Arab News. The team was joined with family members and friends at the cafe where they were served with a drink menu in braille.
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Since its inception in the 1950s, in fact, Arabic braille has been gaining traction across the region. In Saudi Arabia, it's currently being implemented on medication labels, and in book publications such as the Qur'an, which includes a digital version developed last year. Coinciding with this year's World Braille Day, Saudi Arabia's flag carrier, Saudia, had also reassured its commitment to be more inclusive to travelers with visual impairment, having already become the world's first airline to implement braille in-flight in 2015.