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A Win for Mali’s Braille Community

Linguists and Braille experts in Mali have translated the country’s most widely spoken African language, Bambara, into Braille for the country’s blind. Bambara is spoken and understood by about 15 million Malians, even more than the colonial French, making it an important step for blind people. Moussa Keita has been at the Malian Union of the Blind (UMAV) since childhood — first, as a student, and now, as a teacher. He is one of six instructors who will soon teach Braille in Bambara, before now, students learned Braille in Mali’s colonial language, French. In the shade of a tree by his classroom on the UMAV campus, Keita explains his pride in Bambara Braille. “When I think of this project, that thought not just of the visually handicapped, but moreover, that thought of Africans, particularly of Malians, to write Braille in their own language … to try and adapt Braille to Bambara, which isn’t even the official language … really, it’s a feeling of pride and joy for us,” he said. Bambara has more letters than the French alphabet and more intonation, so new letters had to be created — but only within the six points available in the Braille cell.