ABU(Senior group) Excellent Work
Braille Survives
Lebanon Nadeem Koussa (43/Male)

There is no electricity and the laptop is telling Maya to switch to electrical power or she would run the risk of losing her work. She turns it off, puts it on the table and puts a Braille magazine on her lap. Her soft fingers rustle against the hard dots reading the index. She pauses a while to adjust her hair and asks:
“Do you think Braille would survive the challenges of new technologies for the blind?”

“It depends on my hungry fingers and on who is my laptop” I reply smilingly.
She pauses again digesting the answer and suddenly throws at me the hairclip in her hand saying angrily: “you mean (what), not (who) is your laptop!”

Satisfied with this exothermic reception of my chemical message, I start serious talk with Braille-fan Maya: “well, it depends on which kind of Brail you mean: hard, soft or smooth” I answer thoughtfully.

Maya is a smart representative of the blind in the country. She quickly detects my mental challenge to her question as inadequate, but cannot reply here with another hairclip.

Sensing the mystery in the words “smooth Braille”, she gives in to her curiosity saying:
“you mean that my question is not really clear; that electronic Braille is a new technology for the blind and you want to say That hard brail on paper or plastic and soft electronic Braille have different survival chances and competitive powers; but what is “smooth Braille! you always say that unlike talking computers for the blind, hard Braille is very expensive and time consuming to produce; it is hard to carry or send; it is very voluminous to keep and not easy to search through. However, you always ignore the beautiful feeling of reading a book or writing your hard document like any other sighted person. You ignore the beautiful memories that reading a Braille book conjure! Yes?”

“Not exactly, Maya. I don’t really ignore those beautiful feelings related to hard brail, but think such feelings are progressively becoming specific to the elder generations; the younger blind are and will be differently trained than us; they won’t be that nostalgic about hard Braille. Moreover, don’t you see that as pockets of governments and charities shrink, hard Brail will suffer! You know how expensive Braille printers, Braillers and Braille paper are! You know how hard it is to produce a Braille book and that at college stage, production pace cannot cope up with the speed of assignments! You remember how hard it was to carry many books to class to follow up with the teacher and how noisy it was to take notes on a Brailler! You are aware of how hard it is to receive or send a hard Braille document to a friend or a blind association abroad; how much more money it costs than through internet! Moreover, where are you going to keep all your beloved books in this world of shrinking space per individual or search for a certain text in a large Braille book!?”

“Yes, but talking computers are noisy and disturbing to use for reading and writing in class and if you use a headset, you could miss on what the teacher is saying. You also know that using both senses of hearing and touch improves both perception and memorization; sighted people use both sight and hearing in class; why should a blind person be at a disadvantage using hearing only?! I hope you confess that using a talking computer weakens your dictation. It was you who spelled laptop as (labtop) and wrote to me that you wanted to (meat) your girlfriend instead of meet her!!”

I feel like throwing back the hairclip at her while saying: “taking notes in class on a Brailler is also noisy. You’ve tried a Braille computer, isn’t the best solution for all these problems in both hard Braille and voice technologies? a small light machine that can hold all our books and documents at whatever stage of education or profession we are; it enables us to follow up readings in class or quickly select any excerpt that pops up in the teacher’s or lecturer’s mind; it helps us silently take notes and greatly helps us send or receive information and get on the net.”
“I would certainly approve of your preference if you could tell me where common blind people would get the money to buy such hellishly expensive machines in countries where governments do not support them,” she says.

“Do you remember what Luna told you in the bank lobby about Biglips?”
“About the lady who had too much enlarged her lips with Silicon injection!?” She asks surprisedly!
“Yes. How in her attempt to become more beautiful became uglier because of unproportionate lips with her nose, eyes and cheeks!”

Maya becomes uneasy hearing this. She says: ”Do you mean that governments and associations like the one I represent are injecting too much money in one place?”

“Yes, some are investing too much in false integration schemes while others are throwing it on futile conferences; only the rich governments and associations are left with residual money to invest in vital equipment for the blind.”

“So you think the future should be a Braille computer for every blind person and that we should lobby governments and charities to concentrate most of their donations on this?” She asks.

“Doing your duty or not doesn’t matter much here; with time, what is best will prove itself above the rest. You would only lose the honor of detecting the problem and lobbying for the solution while soft Braille continues to develop as the wonderful fruit of marrying Braille and technology. Besides, you ask me about the future! Huh. Who can tell the future in this mad spurt in touch and voice inventions!”

“Such as those in modern cell phones?” She asks.
“Yes. Voice recognition programs and touch screens, i.e. smooth Braille.”

“Ah! So this is what you call smooth Braille?” She jumps up.
“Yes, I think touch screens in cell phones and computer notebooks are dragging even the sighted people to enter the age of smooth Braille. For, the blind, they marry between touch and voice and are cheaper than both.”

“Wow! But back to the disturbance problem in class and besides, all the letters will feel the same for the blind as it is not really Braille!” She shouts back sarcastically.

“They will be useful to blind people after education and Braille is not only your six beloved dots. After all, I have seen them eight in soft Braille, Why can’t they become smooth in future??”

“Hahaha! Because Braille is not a function of your imagination, nor of your definition,” she laughs unconvinced saying, “give me back my hairclip please.”

“Throw it at you as you did at me?”
“No! Give it.”
“No third option?”
“Through a forth kind of Brail you imagine?” she laughs sarcastically.
“Yes, the best kind that will outlive both Brail and new technologies.”
“What is it and how would it do so” She asks.

With hungry fingers, I put back the butterfly hairclip on her long black silky hair saying: “Sweet Braille” while she laughs silently with fake annoyance.


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