- Chris McMillan
Books without barriers
12th November 2021
Books without barriers
It is three o'clock in the afternoon. The golden sunshine tumbles through the southern window of the main reading room of the Braille Library of China, yet there is not a single reader in sight.
Make no mistake-that does not mean the custodians of this literary trove are doing nothing. On the contrary, the librarian on duty is quite busy. She simultaneously keeps one eye on WeChat, while checking QQ app for new messages with the other, as well as standing ready to answer the phone that might ring at any time. All calls and messages come from visually impaired people or their families seeking that most essential of societal needs-access to knowledge.
Since it was founded in 1994, the BLC has operated a mailing service for the visually impaired so that they can just write or pick up the phone to request the books they need, then wait at home for them to arrive. After finishing the books, they only need to attach a prepared address card to the mail bag that comes with the books, then put it in the mailbox. All free of charge, thanks to government funding.
The mailing service has enabled many visually impaired people to fulfill their dreams of learning at home without needing to travel to the library, something that is increasingly useful since the COVID-19 outbreak.
Cheng Donghao, a 22-year-old blind man, is one of the over 20,000 people who directly benefit from the services provided by the library every year.
Having been a registered member for about 10 years, Cheng has borrowed Braille books since primary school and got the knowledge he needed by running his fingers across the raised dots that lined the pages. "Now, I am preparing for next year's college entrance exam and my dream major is traditional Chinese medicine," he says.
Mailing books is only one of the remote services the BLC renders to visually impaired people. Another one is a smart listening device, which looks like an old-fashioned cellphone. The user just needs to press the buttons under the audio guidance to gain access to all 20 terabytes of audiobooks stored on the BLC website, making access to literature for the visually impaired even easier.
The smart listening device is part of a "blind reading project" launched by China Disabled Persons' Federation in 2017.As part of the program, the government purchased 200,000 such devices and distributed them to the over 400 Braille libraries and barrier-free reading rooms nationwide to be lent to the visually impaired.