Jamaica Becomes First Country in the Caribbean to Provide Civil Registration Documents In Braille

On April 2, 2024, the CEO of Jamaica’s Registrar General Department (RGD), Charlton McFarlane, announced that now provides equal access to essential civil registration documents by introducing Braille certificates for people with visual impairments. These documents include birth, marriage, and death certificates. Jamaica is the first Caribbean country to provide civil registration documents in Braille, a system that uses raised dots that can be read by individuals who are blind or who have low vision.

RGD works to accommodate all Jamaicans

According to McFarlane, the introduction of civil registration documents in Braille represents part of the RGD’s continual effort to ensure that its services meet the needs of all Jamaicans. The Braille certificates allow visually impaired people to access, read, interpret, and gain information directly from their vital documents. While McFarlane noted that, as Deputy Keeper of Records, there are requests periodically for birth certificates to be translated, but this is the first time that the certificates will be produced in another written format. The initiative was undertaken with collaboration with the Jamaica Society for the Blind, which is helping with Braille and the printing of the documents. McFarlane added that members of the community are looking forward to the Braille certificates as it gives them the independence to read and understand the documents on their own and to check that the information in them is correct.

A historic moment

The implementation of the Braille initiative on April 2, 2024, marked a historic moment for Jamaica and the RGD as Jamaica is the only nation in the Caribbean that offers this service to its citizens, McFarlane said. He also stated that registrars in other Caribbean countries have shown an interest in following Jamaica by providing similar services. “But as usual,” he added, “Jamaica continues to take leadership within the Caribbean.” The introduction of the Braille services in April 2024 was scheduled to align with the beginning of the new financial year. Jamaica’s initiative to print birth certificates in Braille was announced by Minister Without Portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister, Floyd Green, in May 2023. Green called the plan a “pioneering effort” in the English-speaking Caribbean.

What is Braille?

Louis Braille, a student at the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris in the early 19th century, invented the Braille system. At the time, books for the blind were created with raised print that was hard to produce, read, and write. At the age of 15, Louis Braille found a way to create an alphabet that could be easily read with a person’s fingertips. It was based on the “night writing” code used by the military to send messages that could be read on battlefields at night without light. According to the American Foundation for the Blind, Braille is a system of cells made of six raised dots arranged in two parallel rows, each having three dots, with each cell representing a letter, number, punctuation mark, and sometimes a whole word. It is not a language, but a code that thousands of individuals worldwide can use in their native languages.