In Defence Of Braille

: Paul Gough Hopkins

Happy Birthday Louis Braille!

Why write all the following down when someone has already said it way better than I could have without sitting for a couple of hours to think it through.

I’m so thankful that I was taught Braille at school. I did protest at first and they let me try writing in large print for a year. I quickly realised that wasn’t an option for me and I was encouraged and enabled to go back to learning Braille and I applied myself with a vengeance. I was about 8 at this point.

Braille has also provided me with a living for 25 years this year so, in a very real sense, it is something I’m passionate about.

Please do take the time to read what the post I’m sharing says as it never hurts to have the support of others as Braille is often deliberately not taught when it should be and the large charities which supposedly represent blind people often undermine it.

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Heading 3: Áine Kelly-Costello

It’s Louis Braille’s 212th Birthday today. I had the privilege of learning Braille from when I was 4. This year, I’d like to offer a message to parents, teachers and aids who work closely with blind and low vision children throughout their education:

For every student who has very little useable vision, or is likely to lose what they have, or whose eyes get tired when they read – if you have the means but choose not to put the effort into ensuring they learn Braille at school, you do them a huge disservice.

Please don’t delay  just because their useable vision is decent right now or because they can still read large print. It doesn’t matter that they don’t use Braille all the time for everything. And, no, it also doesn’t matter that most things Braille helps with are technically manageable with a screen reader.

Here’s the thing.

Braille is *not* a language—it’s a code—but learning Braille is a bit like learning a foreign language. It’s a hell of a lot easier when you’re 5 or 10, than when you’re 18 or 25 or 50. Of course it can still be done later, but, like learning a language, it requires that much more regular effort and dedication, especially when that involves fitting it around the rest of a busy life, or possibly trying to learn it when vision has just taken a nose-dive.

Can we stop this unnecessary deprivation?

Here are three of many reasons Braille is still a useful tool in many situations. Braille-reading friends, feel free to add your favourites in the comments:

1. You can give your memory a break. Whether it’s glancing at powerpoint notes, facilitating a meeting or taking notes in class, Braille is exceedingly helpful. Listening to a screen-reader while trying to either listen to someone else or to speak yourself can be difficult and draining. Also, some subjects, like Maths, really are easier when you don’t have to keep screeds of details in your head.

2. Labels have many uses. Whether it’s reading the lift buttons, medication labels (where available) or remembering what some print pages you need to keep track of are about, Braille is a convenient and quick way to get that crucial info. Also, by the way, receiving Braille Christmas cards never gets old.

3. Pleasure reading and language learning. Screen-readers are great for many things, but shall we say they were not designed to ‘make poetry sound beautiful. Also, if you’re learning a foreign language, trust me—the ability to learn how to spell and be able to read without relying on a screen-reader is a life-saver if you don’t have bottomless patience.

So let’s do better. Let’s remember that Braille is one very useful tool in the toolbox and that if you withhold it from students who might benefit from it now or later, you, however unintentionally, do them a disservice.

Braille displays are slowly but surely becoming more affordable so the technological barriers are coming down.  Let’s not put any other roadblocks in the way. Every student  who might benefit from knowing Braille now or later has the right  to learn the code as early as possible.  That way, it gives them choices about how they read and write, not just now but for the rest of their lives.

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