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Braille Key to Social and Economic Opportunity

January 4th is the birth date of Louis Braille, the inventor of braille, and marks International Braille Day around the world. Braille literacy is the key to social and economic opportunity, according to NCBI (National Council for the Blind of Ireland), but the organization is concerned at the over-reliance on technology among younger blind and vision-impaired people.

"Although technology has played a vital role in opening up communications and information for people with sight loss, we are concerned that braille is slipping off the radar. We are seeing fewer children now who are born totally blind but more children with low vision, for whom braille might not seem an immediate choice. However, by relying solely on audio texts and computers, children may not learn to read and write. Learning braille teaches grammar, spelling and punctuation, and is vital for subjects like math, science and music, where technology cannot compensate," according to Des Kenny, CEO of NCBI.

Over 180 years ago, Louis Braille revolutionized the lives of people who are blind, deaf-blind and vision-impaired, with his invention of a simple system of six raised dots. Used in various combinations, the six dots can be used to form letters of the alphabet, musical notations, chemistry symbols, numbers and punctuation, and can be read by touch or by sight.

"Learning braille means having choices and that is the key to independence and social and economic opportunity for people with sight loss. In fact, international studies have shown that people who read braille are more likely to be employed than those who do not," continued Mr. Kenny.

High-tech devices and braille need not sit at either end of the technology spectrum. In fact, computers have facilitated the expansion of braille, with the introduction of software and portable devices, which have increased its accessibility. Software programmes and portable electronic braille note-takers allow users to save and edit their writing and have it displayed back to them either verbally or tactually. Other computer programmes transcribe braille to print and vice versa.

Reprinted from the National Council for the Blind of Ireland's website, December 21, 2007: {http://www.ncbi.ie}

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