Unseen Perspectives: Navigating the MuZIEum, Decoding Braille, and Inclusive Communication
“What is it like to be blind or partially sighted? During a visit to the MuZIEum, you will experience it yourself.”
These are the welcoming words you encounter when you step into the MuZIEum, an institution in Nijmegen dedicated to inclusive communication. This unique facility provides an immersive experience that allows visitors to temporarily walk in the shoes of those who are blind or partially sighted. The MuZIEum emphasises the importance of our other senses – hearing, smell, touch, and taste – by taking us on a sensory journey through their world.
“Visual people” without visuals
Noelle and I, (Ludejo’s social media manager and Ludejo’s media production manager respectively), are often accused of being “visual people”. As ‘creative types’, we often process information better when it comes at us in a visual format. That doesn’t mean we need to get all instructions in Ikea infographic form… but more often than not, it helps. So, we went to the MuZIEum in Nijmegen.
A museum made of more than glass cases
The MuZIEum is not a traditional museum where you admire objects behind glass cases. You become an active part of the experience itself. The museum offers two different tours conducted in complete darkness, guided by individuals who are blind or partially sighted. These tour guides are not merely educators; they are storytellers, sharing their experiences and providing insight into the challenges and triumphs of living with sight loss. This unique approach to experiential learning is, if you’ll pardon the pun, eye-opening and humbling.
At the heart of the MuZIEum lies an essential lesson about inclusivity and accessibility – that all information and experiences should be made available to everyone, regardless of their physical restrictions. This is where Braille, a remarkable invention, comes into the picture. Ludejo is a communication company with a mission to make information accessible to everyone, regardless of their physical circumstances. We are fascinated by Braille as a method of communication, but know relatively little about it.
Our trip to the MuZIEum inspired us to delve into the history of Braille.
The Invention of Braille
Braille is a tactile writing system invented by Louis Braille, a Frenchman who was blind himself. Born in 1809, Louis Braille lost his sight in an accident at a young age. This loss of vision fuelled his determination to create a system that would enable individuals with visual impairments to read and write independently.
The Braille system is based on a six-dot cell, with different combinations of raised dots representing letters, numbers, and even musical notations. It provides a means of written communication that can be read by touch. Louis Braille’s system was officially presented in 1824, revolutionising accessibility and education for the visually impaired.
Braille Around the World
Braille is a universal system, adaptable to different languages. While the basic Braille system remains the same, the characters and symbols used in Braille differ from one language to another. In languages that use the Latin script, like English and Dutch, Braille patterns represent the corresponding letters. However, in countries using different scripts, such as Arabic or Chinese, Braille is adapted to those unique writing systems.
This adaptability is a testament to Braille’s universality and the commitment to ensuring that information is accessible to all, regardless of language or culture.
The Power of Braille Today
Braille remains a critical tool for millions of people around the world who are blind or partially sighted. It is the gateway to literacy and independence, enabling individuals to access written information, communicate effectively, and participate in society. Braille is used for a wide range of materials, including books, menus, signage, and educational resources.
The digital age has also seen the adaptation of Braille into electronic devices, making it even more accessible. Refreshable Braille displays connect to computers and mobile devices, allowing users to read digital text in Braille. This innovation has expanded the possibilities for Braille users in the modern world.
Can Anyone Learn Braille?
One of the most beautiful aspects of Braille is that it’s not exclusive to the visually impaired. Anyone can learn Braille, and many sighted individuals have embraced this unique system as a way to foster inclusivity. Learning Braille allows sighted individuals to connect with their visually impaired peers, break down communication barriers, and actively participate in creating an inclusive society.
In our digitally connected world, Braille translation software plays a crucial role in making written content accessible to the visually impaired. These software programs convert text from various sources, such as books or websites, into Braille format, allowing Braille readers to access a wide range of materials.
Additionally, there are Braille translators who specialise in transcribing printed or digital materials into Braille. These professionals ensure that Braille readers have access to a diverse range of written content, from literature to textbooks and beyond.
The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon
Have you heard of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon? The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, otherwise known as the frequency illusion or recency bias, is a situation where something you recently learned about suddenly seems to appear everywhere. Since visiting the MuZIEum in Nijmegen, I have come across a few examples where blind or partially sighted people have broken through in various forms of media. From a podcast that referred to a New Yorker article, to a wonderful mini-series on Netflix.
The New Yorker published an article by Andrew Leland called “How to be Blind”. In the article Leland describes his experience with losing his sight and discovering the Colorado Center for the Blind (CCB). At the CCB the final “exam” for independent proficiency is a “cold drop”. Candidates are driven away from the Center and dropped in a place they are unfamiliar with. They then have to make their way back to the Center – and they are only allowed to ask 1 person for help once.
Our MuZIEum visit obviously would not have prepared us for anything so dramatic. We had one or two hours in the dark with an experienced guide. We took part in a “day in the life” experience. This basically consisted of walking into different staged scenes, in pitch darkness. The rooms flowed from an apartment to a garden and street scene, to a shop, then a cinema and finally into a bar. By the end of the tour, I felt weirdly comfortable with the situation. I trusted the museum set-up, and our guide, to ensure I couldn’t hurt myself by walking into anything.
All The Light We Cannot See
A wonderful mini-series debuted on Netflix in November 2023, “All The Light We Cannot See”. Based on a book by the same name by Anthony Doerr, it is a poignant novel set during World War II. It intricately weaves the lives of a blind French girl and a young German orphan boy whose paths eventually converge.
Seeing a story set in World War II, a period we regularly focus on for our audio work with the Airborne Museum, is really rewarding.
Aria Mia Loberti made her acting debut in the leading role of Marie-Laure Leblanc in “All the Light We Cannot See”. Loberti, who is also legally blind due to a severe form of the genetic condition achromatopsia, secured the part after a global search for a blind or low-vision actor. Despite having no acting training, Loberti emerged victorious from the thousands of submissions to attain the role; it marked her debut in acting and was her first audition. Seeing such an inexperienced actress own the role she was born to play was uplifting. Shawn Levy, who directed the series, said of Loberti; “She has …a luminous quality on camera”.
All The Light We Cannot See can be found on Netflix.
Dilemma op Dinsdag
Every now and then, on a Tuesday, the Ludejo team WhatsApp account comes alive. Donja, our team lead, adds a Dilemma op Dinsdag illustration into the app. This is basically a kind of “would you rather” game. Now, the dilemmas presented are always fairly ridiculous. Which would you choose: You sing everything you say – OR – you move in slow motion (you get to speak normally). This is one of the milder, family friendly dilemmas.
A dilemma that has bounced around my head for years is: “would you rather lose your sight, or your hearing?”.
I don’t know how I would react to either, but after visiting the MuZIEum I can at least start to imagine what it would be like to lose my vision. It truly was an eye-opening experience.