EBU(Senior group) Excellent Work
“AN UNBIASED LOOK AT THE BRAILLE SYSTEM”
Portugal Ana Maria Almeida Fontes (64/Female)

Braille and I were introduced to each other at primary school. It was not love at first touch, far from it! But when I eventually made sense of the heap of dots on the sheets, and finally coped with the notion of symmetry that writing with the slate involves, there began a long-standing partnership between Braille and me that still holds. He has pervaded my head and skin deeply. I cannot imagine living without him. In fact, though blind people can now draw culture and information from a variety of sources other than braille, namely audio formats, for certain purposes none of them outdoes it.
As Braille stood by me along my school days, I got to know him better and better: in full and shortened, in Portuguese and in foreign languages, in music books and in games. He saw me through to A-level, then through university; he saw me take a degree and become a teacher.!
Reality soon showed me how demanding the profession of my dreams would be; but love, hard work and poor social life kept me going for fifteen years. I had nothing but my typewriter to communicate in writing with the school community, and it sometimes failed me hopelessly. Braille was always at hand. My pupils soon got used to seeing me take notes from right to left, as well as to thick, quizzical books on my desk.
However, I often felt as though Braille had deserted me, too: teaching material was desperately scarce, the slatedesperately slow! I rejoiced at the arrival of an old Perkins Brailler.
One day, still as a student, I told Braille I hadmet an interesting gentleman, the recorder, and I wanted him to live with us. Braille agreed. He would not deprive me of the vast amount of knowledge I could get through my ears, which was unavailable to my fingertips, He knew our partnership was not at stake, because I preferred reading to listening.
Braille’s rival was yet to come: the speech synthesiser.
The first computers in my work place intimidated me. I thought they were out of my reach and cared nothing about it. Till I witnessed how Hal and Apolo performed, that is. That voice, which according to present standards would be considered robotical, fascinated me by then. What a wonder!Nothing to be compared to my unfriendly, mute typewriter!. That voice made the computer speak to me, as it were. How comfortable it felt just to sit back lazily, while the voice said everything for me! Besides, I got enthusiastic at the ease with which I wrote and checked sentences with my newly-found treasure.
Braille faced the challenge: he ingeniously joined in, enabling me to master the computer with greater detail and reliability: I could actually read both somemessages on the screen and each character I typed, in case I so wished. Printers were also devised,meant to increase the production and dissemination of Braille books and magazines.
Yes, indeed. Braille has never been as widespread before. Nowadays it is there, for everybody to see, on medicine boxes, consumer goods, things of common use like lift buttons, for instance. An unthinkable sight in the recent past. Society is now more sensitive to the special needs of its handicapped members and began strivingto meet them; Yet, ironically, the number of good blind Braille users is decreasing.
WhY? In my opinion owing to the very nature of the Braille system, to the lack of qualified staff and to its competitors.
Braille is rowing against the stream: it is heavy, bulky, rigid, difficult to learn, unappealing to the eye, whereas we, twenty-first century children, generally speaking value what is light, small, flexible, simple and good-looking. We are less prone to sacrifice ourselves than our predecessors.
Thus, though everyone recognises that the use of contractions in Braille saves paper, time and effort, in some countries they are nearly forgotten. Similarly, many blind children are not taught how to write with a slate, because the machine is quicker and easier to handle. With the result that these children will not benefit from portable devices until they growmature enough to deal with an electronic one.
The snag is that few ordinary people can afford electronic devices without state help; nevertheless they are more liable to break down and sometimes fail to respond at the decisive moment.
Despite these drawbacks, I could hardly do without my cell phone or without my computer. I often listen to human or artificial voices reading aloud. The speech synthesiser is even my favourite for finding out unessencial information more quickly.
But when it comes to scientific texts or literary works, there is nothing likereading them yourself. At your own pace, free to pause at the spelling of some odd word, free to re-read important or beautiful passages, to skip dull ones; in the open air, in a means of transport, at home and even in the privacy of your bed, the book lying on your tummy.
Admittedly, you can enjoy this only if you are a fluent reader; and fluency in Braille reading, such as proficiency in writing, can only be acquired after long, steady practice.
So learning Braille is worthwhile, be it just to read tags and short notices and to mark your possessions. Those who lose their eyesight in middle age, dare to try Braille and succeed in reaching this elementary level will notice the difference it makes and regain part of their self-esteem. As an example, I make a point of carrying a slate and stylus in my handbag and use them in surgeries and banks as naturally as a sighted lady would use her pen. By writing and sticking small labels on envelopes, cards, boxes… which I do mostly with the slate, the raille system allows me to sort out the papers my life is made of, in short, to tell identical objects apart on my own.
I am living proof that Braille is not a thing of the past. It merely is no longer the sole means of autonomous reading and writing for blind people. How lucky we are! It lies within our own interest to assess the various resources progress offers us and grasp the one that most suits us in each situation.
I am tired of writing so much about the Braille system. Please don’t think me rude, but I wonder whether the money spent on prizes for this competition would not be better invested in instructing Braille teachers and purchasing equipment.

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