WBU-NAC region(Senior group) Fine Work
Braille Is Dead? Long Live Braille!
U.S.A. Lisa Larges (48/Female)

In some circles there is a debate going on about the viability of Braille, and the practicality of teaching Braille to blind and visually impaired students. Braille books, Braille's detractors say, are bulky and expensive to produce. What's more, the braille code—a complex system of special characters and letter combinations—requires a lot of unfashionable memorization. Beside which, hasn't digital technology rendered Braille as obsolete as cursive handwriting or adding figures on the chalk board?

At age six I was squarely in the anti-Braille camp. While my classmates learned to read from their sleek print books, I struggled away with my big and strange Braille volumes. No young child likes being different, and Braille seemed to symbolize that one thing that made me the odd-one-out.

But then, two years later, at the wise old age of eight, something happened. I was at home, begrudgingly slogging through a hated reading assignment, when all of a sudden, I forgot that I didn't like to read. I got caught up in the story. Ifound myself wanting to know what would happen to the characters. I had to find how it would turn out, and there was only one way to do it. I had to read. Suddenly, reading was fun, and Braille just wasn't so bad after all.

I would soon learn that Braille was more than that. It was Braille that taught me about language—how words fit together to become something more than the sum of their parts—to become literature. Through Braille, I deciphered the mysteries of grammar, punctuation and structure. Where do those commas go? Where should a paragraph start and stop? Just how does a sentence fit together? It was Braille that gave me the answer to these questions.

Through Braille, I fell in love with words, so much so that when, as a High School student, I read a for sale notice for a Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary in 36 Braille volumes, I knew I had to have it. I called immediately and was ecstatic to hear that it hadn't yet been sold. The price was $350 — more money by far than I had ever spent on any one item — and practically almost all the money I had saved.

Still, I was thrilled when the dictionary arrived in its many boxes. My Grandfather built a set of bookshelves just to house it, and the dictionary and I would travel together to college, then graduate school, and on to my first apartment. Years later, when I finally decided I could not move it one more time, I passed it on to a woman living across the country. She called me when it arrived at her doorstep and told me how happy she was to have it. I knew just how she felt.

Certainly a lot has changed since I first discovered the joy of reading as a young student. Technological advances have opened up entire worlds of possibilities for me and other blind individuals. Now, most of the books I read are in a digital audio format. I can download an entire bookshelf worth of books on to my iPod Touch and carry them around in my back pocket. Books that would fill up an entire room in Braille now fit on a tiny memory card or thumb drive.

But Braille has also made its way into the digital age. Recently, I was fortunate enough to obtain a Braille display, which I can wirelessly connect to my laptop, smartphone, or my trusty iPod. Now, Braille dots dance under my fingertips, rising, flattening and reforming as I scroll my way through a website, document, or eBook. It's just one more marvelous way I can acquire knowledge and information that was not available to me even a few short years ago.

But, even with all of these important advances, I know how much more impoverished my life would be if I wasn't a Braille reader. Braille conveys information that can't be as easily or effectively transmitted in an audio format. Through Braille, I still continue to learn about the riches of syntax and structure. What's more, Braille lets me savor the beauty of literature, slowing down to linger over a particular passage, or pausing to consider the meaning of each word.

What I've learned about language and communication through reading Braille has given me more than simple pleasure. It also has made me a productive member of my community. In my work I give frequent presentations. These I write out on my computer, review on my Braille display and then render into a hard copy using a Braille embosser. This is just one example of the way I combine my skills as a Braille reader with the new technology available to me.

Braille has brought me, along with many others, the joy of reading and opened up worlds of knowledge and information. Some might still say Braille is dead, but I say, "Long live Braille!"


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