Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Braille Without Borders aids South Asia's blind

Since arriving in Tibet over two decades ago, the founders of Braille Without Borders have been working to empower the blind in Lhasa and beyond. Deutsche Welle talked with them about finding opportunity in disability.

Sabriye Tenberken and Paul Kronenberg are the co-founders and co-directors of Braille Without Borders. Tenberken was born in Cologne, Germany, and became blind at the age of 12. As a student of Tibetology in Bonn, she developed the Tibetan Braille script. With the help of Dutch engineer Paul Kronenberg, Tenberken established the Rehabilitation and Training Center for the Blind in Tibet to provide educational opportunities for some of the tens of thousands of Tibetans who are blind or severely visually impaired.

Deutsche Welle: What inspired you to help blind people in Asia?

Sabriye Tenberken: First of all, I'm blind myself, and I think that's reason enough. I had the feeling that I became a confident young women in my adolescence through many different reasons. First of all, I accepted blindness, and I didn't think that blindness was a handicap for myself. And I was also a little bit rebellious because I had the feeling, "Hey, why do other people tell me what I can do and what I cannot do? Why don't they just let me try - and try to find out what I am capable of doing?" And exactly this rebellious mood and maybe also this understanding of blindness as an opportunity - this was something I wanted to transfer to blind people wherever, it didn't have to be in Asia alone.

And, of course, as a student of Tibetology, you were interested in that country. How difficult was it to adapt the Braille alphabet to Tibetan?

Sabriye Tenberken: That was not difficult at all, because I learned the Tibetan writing system through a little machine called "Opticon" - it's a camera, and you put this camera over a piece of paper and then everything that is black and white is transferred into impulses, and I could read the actual letters with my hand. But I had to create this Braille system in order to be able to read wherever I wanted to, without the machine. And in this way, I created a system which is based on the six-dot Braille system and constructed with the general rules of the Tibetan syllable script, and it's a script that is one-to-one translatable. And later, it became the official Braille script for the Tibetan language, but that was a method which was constructed within two weeks.

To read more: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,5420488,00.html

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