Braille Monitor                                                                 February 1985

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The Fundamental Skill for Blind Writers

by Catherine Horn Randall

(Note: Catherine Horn Randall is one of the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois. She is also an active member of the Writers Division of the Federation. The following article appeared in the November, 1984, edition of Slate and Style, the publication of the Writers Division):

Today's technological revolution is providing blind people with alternate aids only dreamed of less than ten years ago. Wonderful as word processors and speech synthesizers are, they should not be allowed to eclipse Braille. These and other alternate aids serve as tools to work with language. Braille is our unique written language, and language is the alpha and omega of our craft. Braille literacy is the most fundamental skill a blind writer can develop.

The blind writer's most elementary problem is the ability to communicate with himself. I seem to have to do this on paper: I can use a tape recorder for many things but not for writing. I have tried dictating many times, but it does not work for me.

Using Braille, I can read and re-read, write and re-write my work. Most writers agree that re-writing is essential to a good product. Braille is the blind writer's tactile ticket to independence. Long-time Braille users probably think I have overstated the obvious, but thousands of partially blind students do not learn Braille in school because they have enough sight to read print. This happened to me thirty years ago, and it still happens to children today. This philosophy is an educational outrage. It has done a terrible disservice to blind people who should have learned Braille as well as print in school.

I learned Braille five years ago as an adult, after losing my remaining functional vision. It is never too late to learn Braille. A newly blind writer can begin working independently again by writing, using Grade One Braille while learning Grade Two. For those with impaired feeling in their fingertips, Jumbo dot slate or Braillewriter may be helpful.