Northern Ireland

World Braille Day: Blind Co Tyrone schoolgirl (12) says using the system allows her to be like ‘everyone else my age’

Eryn Kirkpatrick (12), who is blind, celebrates World Braille Day at Fivemiletown College

A 12-year-old Co Tyrone girl who has been blind since birth has told of how using Braille allows her to be like “everyone else my age” as the system of raised dots marks its 200th anniversary.

Eryn Kirkpatrick from Fivemiletown was born with Optic Nerve Hypoplasia, but using Braille has provided her with “independence, knowledge and freedom” as she grows up.

A Year 8 pupil at Fivemiletown College, she is speaking out about her experience of using Braille, which enables blind people to read and write, to mark World Braille Day on Thursday.

It is also 200 years since the birth of its inventor Louis Braille.

An avid user, Eryn said: “I love reading and writing with Braille.

“I also love learning about all the new technology that is out there now but still enjoy reading story books in Braille sometimes.

“It’s important to me that I’m able to read the same books and do my schoolwork as well as everyone else my age.

“I love reading and Braille helps me to do that.”

Eryn’s mum Evanna said since her daughter was born “we’ve learnt to trust that she’ll find her own way in life”.

“As parents, when Eryn was very young, we were worried about the future and how she would manage at school or growing up but she continues to amaze us with the way she approaches every problem that’s thrown at her,” she said.

Eryn enjoys learning about new technology and how it can support her with using Braille

“We knew that she was blind, but we didn’t really know what that would mean for her growing up.

“Would she be able to read and do all those things that children do?

“I’d say to other parents, have faith in our kids. It was important to us as parents, that from a young age, Eryn got every opportunity to learn skills that would help her progress in life.”

Royal National Institute of Blind People in Northern Ireland (RNIB NI) says Braille is as vital as ever and made even more so because of the advances in new technology.

Jackie Brown from the charity advocates for Braille to unlock the world of literacy and numeracy for people living with sight loss.

“Being totally blind, I learnt Braille as my first medium to read and write,” she said.

“I did all my schoolwork in Braille and even now, I still use Braille each and every day.

“Growing up, I was acutely aware of how much Braille enabled me to do.

RNIB's Jackie Brown visits Eryn at school to support her in learning Braille and other assistive technology

“I think it’s still so important in order to teach kids with a vision impairment numeracy and literacy.

“Aspects of grammar like spelling, learning punctuation and capitalising letters, all of which are quite difficult to teach using speech software or audio books.”

Ms Brown added: “It’s my job to make sure that young people with a vision impairment know about the developments in technology that exist to support them in their education journey so they can grow up strong, confident people who choose their own path in life, go to university, flourish in their chosen careers, or whatever it is they wish to do”.