The Importance of Braille Literacy

An open letter to the New York Times:

In the article

“listening to Braille”

the question is asked: With New Technologies, Do Blind People Lose More Than They Gain? In my opinion, there is very much that we can gain, however, it should not be forgotten how much we have to lose. Technology is a great thing, I think that many of us can agree on that statement. Unfortunately, it is regularly being used as a substitute for Braille, which I cannot condone.

My Experience with Braille:

When I was five years old, I learned how to read Braille, the ingenious system of dots representing letters, numbers, music, and accents. To this day, my book shelves are still filled with volumes of Braille: Harry Potter, Shakespeare, cookbooks, and books filled with puzzles (yes, I am a crossword fan, and that book was written by New York Times’ Will Shortz, its current crossword creator). Not to be redundant, but Braille is my print, and I use it in my everyday life: a few examples include reading books, Braille notes, and public signs (I wouldn’t want to walk into the wrong bathroom). I don’t want this generation of children to grow up without knowing how to spell, with no knowledge of vocabulary, or even not understanding concepts like paragraphs, tabs, and margins. However, if it were up to Ms. Sloate, the first women interviewed in this disturbing yet interesting article written by Rachel Aviv, Braille would be “abolished”. Well this is very easy for her to say: she receives all of her news media in an audio format and she has a secretary to whom she can dictate, a luxury which most of us will never possess. I comprehend that Braille is expensive, but does that mean that this nation’s 1.3 million citizens who are blind should be deprived of knowing what a comma is?

From my experiences, I can tell you that I only personally use Braille for certain types of materials but not for others. For example, Braille is almost a necessity for foreign languages, mathematics, sciences, and music. I don’t intend to take a negative stance on technology, I really do enjoy it. In fact, I am a happy member of audible.com where I read two audio books every month, and I think that this site and many others which offer audio materials are excellent.

Conclusion:

I am simply puzzled by one question: Do you use audio or Braille? OR? I’m sorry, but… really? Were we supposed to make a choice about that? Since when were audio and Braille mutually exclusive? For that matter, with the exponential increase in the use of technology among the blind, this does not indicate that we must eliminate the amazing Braille system. If this was a multiple choice question, I would circle all of the above. In other words, technology is excellent, but don’t let Braille die!

Sincerely,

Dan

One thought on “The Importance of Braille Literacy

  1. Dan, I can’t disagree with anything that you have said. Litteracy in Braille is essential to a blind or severely visually impaired person’s overall literacy and, I might add, independence. Audio in any for it might take – tapes or CD’s of books; the voices of screen readers or voice-over – is great and can be a wonderful time saver for some, but they are not a replacement for braille in so many situations. Signage in most places is in braille, the buttons on ATMs are marked in braille even if the ATM uses audio to read the screens; the list could go on, but you get my point all too well. If one cannot read braille in these sorts of situations can the blind or VI person really be independent? I think not.
    As you are well aware I happen to be sighted. I’m appalled that blind kids are not automatically being taught braille in school anymore and that many students and parents have to fight the school systems to have it taught to them/their child! I understand the there are few ‘special ed’ teachers who are capable of teaching braille, but that is a fault of their schooling and not because braille is obsolete.
    I have many rants about the state of the educational system in the U.S. but I will not go into them here except to say that far too much is spent on some students with little, if any, potential to become productive members of society and far too little is spent on those who could do great things. Even saying that I find it unconscionable that blind or VI kids are not being given ALL of the tools that they need to succed. Audio doesn’t let you learn how to spell, or basic sentence structure. Audio isn’t useful for teaching mathematics, or music notation/theory.
    Although I have my militant streak, and am opposed to violent militantism, I believe the blind/VI community needs to be doing more to promote braille literacy, not allowing the naysayers to destroy a good thing.

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