Braille Monitor                                                February 2013

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Is Braille Still Relevant?

by Buddy Brannan

Melanie and Buddy BrannanFrom the Editor: Buddy Brannan is a member of the National Federation of the Blind and serves as the vice president of the Erie chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania.

Most of the articles printed in the Braille Monitor are written specifically for our magazine; some we reprint from other publications. Some items come to our attention through email posts and, though not intended as articles, they articulate something so important that it should be captured and shared with our readers.

The following email remarks by Buddy Brannan, which were circulated in June 2012, reflect the frustration some of us feel acutely when a method for reading and writing using the sense of touch is greeted with skepticism while a method for getting information through the eyes is accepted without question. Here is one blind man’s reaction to the notion that audio devices may be robbing the sighted of the ability to spell while simultaneously being proposed as the way to free blind people from the need to learn Braille.

Perkins just asked in an email they sent out if Braille is still relevant in a high tech world. They said the answer was a resounding yes, as it certainly should be, but here is my response which I sent to Perkins and posted to my blog:

 Hi,

First, do I love my Perkins Brailler? Of course I do. I don't really want to talk about that, though. Rather I want to address the question you posed: is Braille still relevant in a technological world? Of course you got the answer, and in my view the correct one, but what disturbs me is that the question was even asked in the first place. I think it is the wrong question. In short, what happens if you replace the word "Braille" with the word "print"? Does the question change? Does the relevance of the question change with the medium? Does the answer change? What about the perceptions of the question--do those change?

A couple of weeks ago, I was a fill-in host on the Serotek podcast, where we discussed an article about the decline in spelling skills among today's youth. However, I didn't take away what was probably the intended message of the article. I took away a double standard. Now that it's sighted children who use print and are losing the ability to spell, form proper sentences, and so on, we have a tragedy, and our electronics-centric lifestyle is to blame. Think of texting as the most often blamed culprit. Yet where was this outcry for our blind kids twenty years ago, when as now we were told that talking computers and recorded textbooks are good enough? Double standard? Why is it, do you suppose, that learning to read print and having access to print are essential to teach sighted children the fundamentals of grammar, spelling, and punctuation, but such skills are adequately taught to our blind kids with talking computers and recorded textbooks? Or is it that our blind kids and their skills and abilities in these areas just aren't important enough to give the same amount of attention or priority? Why is--pulling a number out of the air here--a 10 percent illiteracy rate among the sighted a national tragedy, yet a 10 percent literacy rate among the blind acceptable?

If you gather that I'm angry, you're right. I am absolutely livid. This is only one example of this double standard where blind and sighted people are concerned. The thing is, it's a huge example, and it doesn't even seem as though we ourselves always recognize it for what it is, because we still ask questions like "Is Braille still relevant?" As long as literacy is relevant to gainful employment, career advancement, educational opportunities, and all the other things life has to offer, the answer should be obvious.

As I said, you're asking the wrong question. There are probably a lot of right questions, but the one that comes to mind, setting aside the obvious one, "Why is this double standard acceptable?" is, "How do we get Braille into the hands of more kids and get more of our kids learning it, and more of our teachers teaching it?” Let's start there; there's much, much more that we should be asking as follow-ups to that.

Parenthetically, I note that the word "Brailler" was flagged by my spell checker. Moreover, it was autocorrected to "broiler." That speaks volumes.

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