That was the reality for children with visual impairments in Mali.
Bamanankan is the language spoken by about 80 per cent of the population of Mali, about 15 million people. But despite its wide use, it has never been translated into braille for people who are blind or severely visually impaired.
As part of Sightsavers’ inclusive education project, which supports children with visual impairments in primary schools across the country, we’ve worked with linguistic expert Dr Issiaka Ballo, assistant professor at Université des Lettres et des Sciences in Bama, to translate braille into the local language for the first time.
“Our approach was to continue with the French alphabet since it is already adapted to braille and most of the French and Bamanankan letters are the same Latin script,” Dr Ballo says. With a team, he had to identify any special letters and spellings that exist in Bamanankan but are missing in French, and also allow for varying vowel length and nasalisation features in Bamanankan. The production of the new braille materials was time-consuming and required extensive IT skills.
“My colleague and I worked on producing texts for five months,” says Dr Ballo. “We organised a test class to check the findings with at least six learners. The result of the test had been satisfying when the grades of the learners were very high.
“The first impact I saw from the teachers and students is their rapid ability to write Bamanankan in braille. The second is the students would keep on saying that they discovered now that it is possible to write in their own language with braille.”
This work was funded by USAID, as part of an inclusive education project for primary school children with visual impairments in Mali.
Adapting the braille was a joint initiative involving the Université des Lettres et des Sciences in Bamako, the University of Birmingham in the UK, the Malian Union of the Blind, and Mali’s Ministry of Education.