WBU-NAC(Senior Group) Fine Work
Why Bother with Braille?
Thea Ramsay (48, Female)
Before that indomitable blind Frenchman, Louis Braille created the system that bears his name, he learned firsthand how hard it was for blind students to gain information and knowledge.
Books for the blind were very few because of the laborious process of making them. In addition, the letter was felt by the whole hand, making reading difficult.
As a teacher at the school, he picked up on the night writing which had been rejected by French soldiers as a means of sharing information without benefit of light. He turned it into a system that fit neatly under the fingertip, so that books would be more portable, and there could be more of them.
Born totally blind, I learned braille as other children learned print. I can vouch for braille’s importance in my education, and in my daily life as it regards information and knowledge.
I learned spelling and math through braille. I studied French, and excelled in Spanish by its use.
I learned pieces for piano, increasing my musical knowledge, because of braille music.
I learned to play chess by taking the Hadley course in braille. I learned how to play other games, such as Monopoly and cards, because they are available in braille.
Such games exercise different parts of the brain. Without them and the braille that made them possible, I would not have had a chance to learn how to strategize against an opponent.
I learned lines to plays I was cast in, memorized Scripture, and sang hymns along with the rest of the congregation, because the hymnal was available in braille. I eventually memorized these hymns, too, because I am a tactual learner, rather than an auditory learner.
Reading braille opened up unimagined vistas. Murder mysteries showed me the workings of a criminal’s mind, as well as how the law proceeded with investigations that led to arrest.
Romances taught me about the use of language, the description of color, and the way sighted people communicate with their eyes.
I learned many interesting facts about Europe, as well as compassion, while finger-traveling with a man who was dying of AIDS, and wanted to visit a few favorite places before he departed this world.
I visited Africa as a blind person would, by reading about a blind man who did it. I sat there on the plane with him, and smelled the spiced air of Zanzibar, along with him. No voice, artificial or human, distracted me as I turned one fragrant page after another, fingers running along as if to keep up with him.
No matter how prevalent talking technology may be, it cannot substitute for the beauty of the texture and fragrance of a much-read braille book.
Then, there’s the computer or musical keyboard manual. With the braille version on my knee, I can relax and enjoy the learning process.
Though I have learned much from talking books and the use of the computer, via a screenreader, braille provides me the quiet environment which helps me concentrate, since running fingers along a page engages me in a way that merely listening to a screenreader or CD does not.
I hope that as more seniors face blindness, they will be encouraged to learn braille, and that as young blind people are mainstreamed into regular schools from day one, that they will get an education that emphasizes the benefits of braille.
I fear that talking tech will be perceived as the easier way out, and that young blind people will be cheated of Louis Braille’s legacy: the right to literacy, that is, spelling, grammar, and syntax; the right and privilege to learning; and the joy of a quiet read by a brook. The feel and fragrance of the pages of a braille book cannot be substituted for by any talking tech, though it does allow us some access to the information super highway.
Even though a very small portion of printed matter is selected for transcription into braille, one can still gain knowledge and information from the small amount of print transcribed. We owe that to the many braille organizations there are, and their different purposes.
Christian Blind Mission, for instance, is committed to disseminating bibles and other devotional matter to the blind, while the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, as well as other organizations like the Library of Congress, are busy transcribing fiction of every genre, including today’s bestsellers, modern magazines on various subjects, nonfiction books on nearly every subject imaginable, and braille music.
This is to say nothing of computer braille and Nemeth code, by which mathematics and the sciences are learned by the blind.
Since braille is used in many languages, such as French, German, Spanish, and Cantonese, it is an excellent tool for learning foreign languages. That’s how I learned French, and excelled in Spanish.
It is my hope that regardless of changes to the system, this method of reading for the blind which was created over a hundred years ago for the purpose of gaining and passing along knowledge and information,will continue to do just that, for a very long time to come.