What British Vogue's first Braille edition means for people with sight loss

You can lose your sight but still love fashion.

That’s the message championed by the latest edition of British Vogue, which is available in Braille and audio formats from 5th May for the first time in the magazine’s 107-year history. 

The Reframing Fashion issue has been created in collaboration with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and the accessibility consultancy Tilting the Lens, to ‘recognise and celebrate the disabled community in the fashion industry’.

It’s a historic and emotional day for people like Debbie Miller, 44 from Derbyshire, who was diagnosed with the degenerative eye condition chronic uveitis at the age of three.

‘My first significant deterioration was when I was 16. It was awful,’ she tells Metro.co.uk. ‘Now, looking back on it, I really struggled. My behaviour was typical of an angry teenager, I used to throw stuff, cry, be really agro.

‘At the time it was driven by how I felt looked to other people and less about what I was experiencing or worries for the future.

‘It was the fact I had to wear really big, thick horrible glasses to see anything at all. And I remember to get around school, I had to have a buddy to walk with me from class to class. They were a close friend, but it just sets you apart from everyone else.’

Debbie, who’s RNIB’s director of customer experience and engagement, has always loved fashion and still religiously buys glossy magazines, even though she can no longer read the text.

‘I like the sense of turning the pages, it’s a sense of luxury,’ she says. ’I can see colour and shapes, so I can make my way through. What frustrates me is that if I see an outfit, I can’t read where it’s from, how much it costs or how to get it.’ 

Debbie usually relies on her 12-year-old daughter to fill in the blanks or searches for the information online with a screen reader, so she’s excited to finally have an accessible magazine.

‘It’s just not the same having to do it all online and more often than not, you have to lean heavily on your family,’ she says. ‘For someone with a disability, you can feel like a burden.

‘I think it’s brilliant [that British Vogue have launched a Braille edition]. I think a lot more people will consume it, because I imagine there’s a lot of people who are blind or partially sighted who have just written off being able to enjoy a magazine.’ 

The May edition is the first in a year-long campaign, where all issues of British Vogue will be available in audio format and for Braille readers for the next 12 months.

It follows in the footsteps of our very own Braille cover wrap on Metro’s newspaper, which was recognised as an ‘innovative and dynamic achievement’ and scooped a major award last year. 

Kimberley Burrows, a London-based blind artist who recently collaborated with Warehouse to launch a range of occasion-wear, plans to read British Vogue for the first time now that it’s available in Braille.

She describes the latest launch as ‘a powerful step towards inclusivity and representation in the fashion industry’.

‘By spotlighting disabled talent, trailblazers, advocates and change makers, British Vogue is challenging the industry to take a long-overdue look at the way it has historically excluded people like me,’ she says.

‘This issue is an important reminder that disability is not a limitation or a barrier to beauty, creativity, or success. As a blind artist, with a strong interest in beauty and fashion, it is deeply encouraging and refreshing.’

Meanwhile Chloe Tear, a disability blogger who started to lose her sight at the age of 18, points out how the edition has a huge symbolic significance, even for those who may not read Braille. 

‘Due to losing my sight later in life, I haven’t learnt Braille,’ Chloe, 25, from Leeds, tells Metro.co.uk.

‘However, as someone who’s visually impaired, the use of Braille is still so important to me. It signifies inclusivity towards the visually impaired community. It also challenges public perceptions around fashion and being blind. 

‘I’ve always loved fashion, especially the 1950s which you could argue is iconic thanks to Coco Chanel. You can be visually impaired and enjoy fashion, it’s great to see Vogue recognising and celebrating that.’

You can listen to the audio edition of British Vogue’s May issue online. Those registered as blind can register their interest to receive a free, physical Braille copy by emailing [email protected].

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