I became blind at about 18-months-old as a result of a blood clot on the brain. I have some useful vision including the ability to see outlines of objects, I can not, however read print.
As a young child I was taught how to use Braille, a system of raised dots which blind people touch in order to decipher text. Growing up Braille was central to my life. I read Braille books voraciously, my school examinations and university exams where in Braille and I could not have progressed easily in life in the absence of those strange, bumpy dots!
Today there is growing concern that Braille is under threat. See, for example the following article, http://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=11258778. The growth of digital technology makes it incredibly easy for blind people to access printed material without having to use Braille. I am typing this with the assistance of Jaws which converts text into speech and Braille on a standard Windows computer allowing visually impaired PC users to access the internet, send and receive e-mail etc. While Jaws does work with Braille displays allowing visually impaired PC users to read Braille via their machines, Braille displays are not essential to the task of reading. My home laptop on which I am writing now is not hooked up to a Braille display and I don’t feel the lack of the technology. I can cope perfectly well in the absence of a Braille display.
Amazon Kindles are equipped with a text to speech facility which allows the reading of books without looking at the device’s screen. Apple products such as the iPad have voiceover which enables visually impaired people to utilise various apps including the one for reading Kindle content. Safari and other key apps are also accessible.
From the above one might conclude that braill is, like the parrot in Monty Python well and truly deceased. However Braille remains incredibly useful. Most medicines are now labelled in Braille which allows blind people to find their medication without having to rely on sighted friends, neighbours, family etc. Again some household products contain Braille labelling (next time you go to the supermarket take a look at the bottles of bleach many of which are labelled with “bleach” in Braille.
Despite the proliferation of digital technology I still enjoy reading Braille. It is lovely to sit in a comfortable armchair leafing through The New Oxford Book Of English Verse or Poe’s “tales of Mystery and Imagination”.
Braille is certainly declining but there remains fight in the old beast yet!