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The Case For Braille

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: This item was originally written in January, 2003, and is reprinted with permission from the website of National Braille Press:

From the mid-'60s to the present, the percentage of school-aged blind children in this country who use braille as their primary reading medium has dropped from 50 percent to 12 percent, and more than a generation of blind children has been largely allowed to grow up illiterate under the damaging notion that tape recordings and talking computers are sufficient for them.

This decline in the teaching and learning of braille has occurred not because the value of literacy has in any way diminished. On the contrary, in our democratic society for which a literate public is the cornerstone and in an economy, which is increasingly complex and information-driven, the ability to read and write is increasingly crucial. This is all the more true as society's vision of the capacity of blind people to achieve despite their handicap grows, as prejudices against them diminish, as the law supports them in equal employment opportunity, and as opportunities for blind people to produce and contribute are expanding.

Braille is the only means by which blind people can truly read the written language. It is certainly true that for easy reading materials such as novels, audio intake using the recorded human voice, or the electronically synthesized mimicking of the human voice, is not only satisfactory but sometimes preferred by blind people, just as it is by sighted people. By the same token, just as sighted people have by no means given up the written language in favour of audio only, so blind people should not be expected to give up their written language. Here are just a few examples of situations in which being able to truly read is critical:

Studying, not simply reading serially, complex material such as a chemistry book, cookbook, or financial statement;

Keeping two channels open to the mind at the same time, as in delivering a speech when referring to notes;

Taking notes and keeping records for easy reference, such as address books and "to do" lists, and labelling items such as food containers, file folders, and CDs;

Reading aloud, e.g. to children, in religious services, in class Learning the intricacies of language: spelling, grammar, and punctuation;

Communicating with and among people who are deaf and blind, who have no other means of human communication other than hand to hand "talking".

Academic research has shown that the early learning of braille correlates strongly with both academic and employment success later in life. Reading is not only a major--if not the major--source of practical information for effective thinking and productivity; but also a major source for knowledge, inspiration, creativity, and the development of values.

Braille means literacy.

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