Braille Literacy Month
From elevators to public restroom signs, even ATMs, Braille is everywhere! Take those big, bright, yellow strips studded with raised dots you see at the ends of sidewalks and by businesses around town…that’s Braille for the feet. Businesses have to meet standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and one of those standards is to have Braille on the ground to keep those with low or no vision out of dangerous areas. As a sighted person, it can be easy to dismiss Braille and the extreme importance it has for those right here in our community who use it to do everyday tasks to reduce the need for support on a continuous basis. One of the more alarming thoughts is that Braille is quickly becoming extinct. That’s right, extinct! According to several sources such as Digital Journal, NPR, and even the L.A. Times, the future of Braille is at great risk.
So, why is this a big deal? If Braille is something most of us will pass by anyway, why should this matter to us? One of the biggest reasons is because it’s something that affects our community at large. Nevada has approximately 101,600 blind and visually impaired individuals. That means everyone from children to adults have to navigate complicated and often stressful daily tasks with limited guidance. According to data from the 2017 National Health Interview Survey, 26.9 million American adults age 18 and older reported experiencing vision loss. It’s a scary thought but it’s something that can happen to anyone at any time. Braille is defined as a system of raised dots that represent the letters in the printed alphabet. It can be read with the use of fingers by those who are blind or have low vision.
“Braille isn’t actually another language,” says Raquel O’Neill, LCSW and President of Blind Connect and Angela’s House. “Braille is taking what a printed letter, like an A or B looks like in the English language and substituting it for a series of raised dots.” When Raquel stopped by Nevada Blind Children’s Foundation in December she discussed the importance Braille plays in doing everyday tasks and how easy it is for those with no experience to grasp. “Half the battle of learning Braille is just knowing the English language. Learning Braille teaches so many skills including versatility.” The skills acquired translate into success in the workforce as well. According to Raquel, “70 percent of those who are blind are unemployed. Of the 30 percent who are employed, 90 percent know and use Braille daily.”
Just like everything else, Braille continues to evolve with the help of technology. Computers, smartphones, apps and tablets have integrated Braille into some of their displays so that text on the screen can be read as tactile characters on a display, read by touch. Amazon’s Fire tablets, the Kindle app (for iOS, Android and PC) let you read with refreshable Braille displays by connecting the device via Bluetooth. Also, WhatsApp launched an update in November for iPhone users which includes a feature that allows you to send messages directly from the Braille keyboard when the device is set to Voice Over mode. There’s plenty more in the works including a hybrid tablet with a 32-cell Braille display built into the bottom of the screen and a Perkins-style keyboard as part of the touch screen. It’s safe to say, Braille isn’t going anywhere, it’s only evolving.
Celebrate National Braille Literacy Month, stop by NBCF and check out our extensive Braille Library! If you would like to help us continue to build our Braille Library a donation of just $35 could buy a large-print or Braille book for an early reader in our soon-to-open preschool!