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A wall sculpture featuring Braille

As a sighted person, it’s hard to imagine what the world is like for blind and partially-sighted people. In 2015, the NHS offered a commission to create a piece of wall art for Southmead hospital in Bristol. Walking around, there seemed to be plenty of art already on the walls for sighted people to enjoy but not much for those with impaired vision. I decided to make a piece that was interesting to touch and also used Braille, the system of raised dots that blind people can use to read.

​The research for this led to some fascinating conversations, particularly when meeting the Bristol Braillists, a group who promote Braille use. Paul and Hazel from the group also kindly took time to visit me at my studio to check that the panels worked well. During the visit they told me the name that blind people have for sighted people: ‘light dependents’. Very true!

​They also mentioned that none of them wished to be able to see – they had the systems and networks in place to get things done and they appreciated their distinct perception of the world. They read with two hands. One hand reads the line of Braille initially, then the second passes over afterwards to check it. It is understandable: the level of difficulty in reading Braille accurately was surprising to one unused to it.

​There are three panels in this artwork: the main one pictured at the top of this page, showing phrases suggested by patients and staff; a key for sighted people to try reading Braille and another smaller panel for visually impaired people to use when orientating themselves on the larger one.

Braille panels making a wall sculpture at Southmead hospital, Bristol
Image © Sylvia Cook