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Listening to Braille

January 2, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

In the summer of 2009, I was interviewed by Rachel Aviv, a reporter with the New York Times, for a story about Braille literacy. The following in-depth article, published on Dec. 30, contains quotes from me and represents the culmination of a great deal of interesting research on the subject. A plain-text copy of the article has been reproduced below for the purpose of making the material as accessible as possible to all readers.

Listening to Braille

Published: December 30, 2009

AT 4 O’CLOCK each morning, Laura J. Sloate begins her daily reading. She calls a phone service that reads newspapers aloud in a synthetic voice, and she listens to The Wall Street Journal at 300 words a minute, which is nearly twice the average pace of speech. Later, an assistant reads The Financial Times to her while she uses her computer’s text-to-speech system to play The Economist aloud. She devotes one ear to the paper and the other to the magazine. The managing director of a Wall Street investment management firm, Sloate has been blind since age 6, and although she reads constantly, poring over the news and the economic reports for several hours every morning, she does not use Braille. “Knowledge goes from my ears to my brain, not from my finger to my brain,” she says. As a child she learned how the letters of the alphabet sounded, not how they appeared or felt on the page. She doesn’t think of a comma in terms of its written form but rather as “a stop on the way before continuing.” This, she says, is the future of reading for the blind. “Literacy evolves,” she told me. “When Braille was invented, in the 19th century, we had nothing else. We didn’t even have radio. At that time, blindness was a disability. Now it’s just a minor, minor impairment.”

A few decades ago, commentators predicted that the electronic age would create a postliterate generation as new forms of media eclipsed the written word. Marshall McLuhan claimed that Western culture would return to the “tribal and oral pattern.” But the decline of written language has become a reality for only the blind. Although Sloate does regret not spending more time learning to spell in her youth — she writes by dictation — she says she thinks that using Braille would have only isolated her from her sighted peers. “It’s an arcane means of communication, which for the most part should be abolished,” she told me. “It’s just not needed today.”

Braille books are expensive and cumbersome, requiring reams of thick, oversize paper. The National Braille Press, an 83-year-old publishing house in Boston, printed the Harry Potter series on its Heidelberg cylinder; the final product was 56 volumes, each nearly a foot tall. Because a single textbook can cost more than $1,000 and there’s a shortage of Braille teachers in public schools, visually impaired students often read using MP3 players, audiobooks and computer-screen-reading software.

A report released last year by the National Federation of the Blind, an advocacy group with 50,000 members, said that less than 10 percent of the 1.3 million legally blind Americans read Braille. Whereas roughly half of all blind children learned Braille in the 1950s, today that number is as low as 1 in 10, according to the report. The figures are controversial because there is debate about when a child with residual vision has “too much sight” for Braille and because the causes of blindness have changed over the decades — in recent years more blind children have multiple disabilities, because of premature births. It is clear, though, that Braille literacy has been waning for some time, even among the most intellectually capable, and the report has inspired a fervent movement to change the way blind people read. “What we’re finding are students who are very smart, very verbally able — and illiterate,” Jim Marks, a board member for the past five years of the Association on Higher Education and Disability, told me. “We stopped teaching our nation’s blind children how to read and write. We put a tape player, then a computer, on their desks. Now their writing is phonetic and butchered. They never got to learn the beauty and shape and structure of language.”

For much of the past century, blind children attended residential institutions where they learned to read by touching the words. Today, visually impaired children can be well versed in literature without knowing how to read; computer-screen-reading software will even break down each word and read the individual letters aloud. Literacy has become much harder to define, even for educators.

“If all you have in the world is what you hear people say, then your mind is limited,” Darrell Shandrow, who runs a blog called Blind Access Journal, told me. “You need written symbols to organize your mind. If you can’t feel or see the word, what does it mean? The substance is gone.” Like many Braille readers, Shandrow says that new computers, which form a single line of Braille cells at a time, will revive the code of bumps, but these devices are still extremely costly and not yet widely used. Shandrow views the decline in Braille literacy as a sign of regression, not progress: “This is like going back to the 1400s, before Gutenberg’s printing press came on the scene,” he said. “Only the scholars and monks knew how to read and write. And then there were the illiterate masses, the peasants.”

UNTIL THE 19TH CENTURY, blind people were confined to an oral culture. Some tried to read letters carved in wood or wax, formed by wire or outlined in felt with pins. Dissatisfied with such makeshift methods, Louis Braille, a student at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris, began studying a cipher language of bumps, called night writing, developed by a French Army officer so soldiers could send messages in the dark. Braille modified the code so that it could be read more efficiently — each letter or punctuation symbol is represented by a pattern of one to six dots on a matrix of three rows and two columns — and added abbreviations for commonly used words like “knowledge,” “people” and “Lord.” Endowed with a reliable method of written communication for the first time in history, blind people had a significant rise in social status, and Louis Braille was embraced as a kind of liberator and spiritual savior. With his “godlike courage,” Helen Keller wrote, Braille built a “firm stairway for millions of sense-crippled human beings to climb from hopeless darkness to the Mind Eternal.”

At the time, blindness was viewed not just as the absence of sight but also as a condition that created a separate kind of species, more innocent and malleable, not fully formed. Some scholars said that blind people spoke a different sort of language, disconnected from visual experience. In his 1933 book, “The Blind in School and Society,” the psychologist Thomas Cutsforth, who lost his sight at age 11, warned that students who were too rapidly assimilated into the sighted world would become lost in “verbal unreality.” At some residential schools, teachers avoided words that referenced color or light because, they said, students might stretch the meanings beyond sense. These theories have since been discredited, and studies have shown that blind children as young as 4 understand the difference in meaning between words like “look,” “touch” and “see.” And yet Cutsforth was not entirely misguided in his argument that sensory deprivation restructures the mind. In the 1990s, a series of brain-imaging studies revealed that the visual cortices of the blind are not rendered useless, as previously assumed. When test subjects swept their fingers over a line of Braille, they showed intense activation in the parts of the brain that typically process visual input.

These imaging studies have been cited by some educators as proof that Braille is essential for blind children’s cognitive development, as the visual cortex takes more than 20 percent of the brain. Given the brain’s plasticity, it is difficult to make the argument that one kind of reading — whether the information is absorbed by ear, finger or retina — is inherently better than another, at least with regard to cognitive function. The architecture of the brain is not fixed, and without images to process, the visual cortex can reorganize for new functions. A 2003 study in Nature Neuroscience found that blind subjects consistently surpassed sighted ones on tests of verbal memory, and their superior performance was caused, the authors suggested, by the extra processing that took place in the visual regions of their brains.

Learning to read is so entwined in the normal course of child development that it is easy to assume that our brains are naturally wired for print literacy. But humans have been reading for fewer than 6,000 years (and literacy has been widespread for no more than a century and a half). The activity of reading itself alters the anatomy of the brain. In a report released in 2009 in the journal Nature, the neuroscientist Manuel Carreiras studies illiterate former guerrillas in Colombia who, after years of combat, had abandoned their weapons, left the jungle and rejoined civilization. Carreiras compares 20 adults who had recently completed a literacy program with 22 people who had not yet begun it. In M.R.I. scans of their brains, the newly literate subjects showed more gray matter in their angular gyri, an area crucial for language processing, and more white matter in part of the corpus callosum, which links the two hemispheres. Deficiencies in these regions were previously observed in dyslexics, and the study suggests that those brain patterns weren’t the cause of their illiteracy, as had been hypothesized, but a result.

There is no doubt that literacy changes brain circuitry, but how this reorganization affects our capacity for language is still a matter of debate. In moving from written to spoken language, the greatest consequences for blind people may not be cognitive but cultural — a loss much harder to avoid. In one of the few studies of blind people’s prose, Doug Brent, a professor of communication at the University of Calgary, and his wife, Diana Brent, a teacher of visually impaired students, analyzed stories by students who didn’t use Braille but rather composed on a regular keyboard and edited by listening to their words played aloud. One 16-year-old wrote a fictional story about a character named Mark who had “sleep bombs”:

He looked in the house windo that was his da windo his dad was walking around with a mask on he took it off he opend the windo and fell on his bed sleeping mark took two bombs and tosed them in the windo the popt his dad lept up but before he could grab the mask it explodedhe fell down asleep.

In describing this story and others like it, the Brents invoked the literary scholar Walter Ong, who argued that members of literate societies think differently than members of oral societies. The act of writing, Ong said — the ability to revisit your ideas and, in the process, refine them — transformed the shape of thought. The Brents characterized the writing of many audio-only readers as disorganized, “as if all of their ideas are crammed into a container, shaken and thrown randomly onto a sheet of paper like dice onto a table.” The beginnings and endings of sentences seem arbitrary, one thought emerging in the midst of another with a kind of breathless energy. The authors concluded, “It just doesn’t seem to reflect the qualities of organized sequence and complex thought that we value in a literate society.”

OUR DEFINITION of a literate society inevitably shifts as our tools for reading and writing evolve, but the brief history of literacy for blind people makes the prospect of change particularly fraught. Since the 1820s, when Louis Braille invented his writing system — so that blind people would no longer be “despised or patronized by condescending sighted people,” as he put it — there has always been, among blind people, a political and even moral dimension to learning to read. Braille is viewed by many as a mark of independence, a sign that blind people have moved away from an oral culture seen as primitive and isolating. In recent years, however, this narrative has been complicated. Schoolchildren in developed countries, like the U.S. and Britain, are now thought to have lower Braille literacy than those in developing ones, like Indonesia and Botswana, where there are few alternatives to Braille. Tim Connell, the managing director of an assistive-technology company in Australia, told me that he has heard this described as “one of the advantages of being poor.”

Braille readers do not deny that new reading technology has been transformative, but Braille looms so large in the mythology of blindness that it has assumed a kind of talismanic status. Those who have residual vision and still try to read print — very slowly or by holding the page an inch or two from their faces — are generally frowned upon by the National Federation of the Blind, which fashions itself as the leader of a civil rights movement for the blind. Its president, Marc Maurer, a voracious reader, compares Louis Braille to Abraham Lincoln. At the annual convention for the federation, held at a Detroit Marriott last July, I heard the mantra “listening is not literacy” repeated everywhere, from panels on the Braille crisis to conversations among middle-school girls. Horror stories circulating around the convention featured children who don’t know what a paragraph is or why we capitalize letters or that “happily ever after” is made up of three separate words.

Declaring your own illiteracy seemed to be a rite of passage. A vice president of the federation, Fredric Schroeder, served as commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration under President Clinton and relies primarily on audio technologies. He was openly repentant about his lack of reading skills. “I am now over 50 years old, and it wasn’t until two months ago that I realized that ‘dissent,’ to disagree, is different than ‘descent,’ to lower something,” he told me. “I’m functionally illiterate. People say, ‘Oh, no, you’re not.’ Yes, I am. I’m sorry about it, but I’m not embarrassed to admit it.”

While people like Laura Sloate or the governor of New York, David A. Paterson, who also reads by listening, may be able to achieve without the help of Braille, their success requires accommodations that many cannot afford. Like Sloate, Paterson dictates his memos, and his staff members select pertinent newspaper articles for him and read them aloud on his voice mail every morning. (He calls himself “overassimilated” and told me that as a child he was “mainstreamed so much that I psychologically got the message that I’m not really supposed to be blind.”) Among people with fewer resources, Braille-readers tend to form the blind elite, in part because it is more plausible for a blind person to find work doing intellectual rather than manual labor.

A 1996 study showed that of a sample of visually impaired adults, those who learned Braille as children were more than twice as likely to be employed as those who had not. At the convention this statistic was frequently cited with pride, so much so that those who didn’t know Braille were sometimes made to feel like outsiders. “There is definitely a sense of peer pressure from the older guard,” James Brown, a 35-year-old who reads using text-to-speech software, told me. “If we could live in our own little Braille world, then that’d be perfect,” he added. “But we live in a visual world.”

When deaf people began getting cochlear implants in the late 1980s, many in the deaf community felt betrayed. The new technology pushed people to think of the disability in a new way — as an identity and a culture. Technology has changed the nature of many disabilities, lifting the burdens but also complicating people’s sense of what is physically natural, because bodies can so often be tweaked until “fixed.” Arielle Silverman, a graduate student at the convention who has been blind since birth, told me that if she had the choice to have vision, she was not sure she would take it. Recently she purchased a pocket-size reading machine that takes photographs of text and then reads the words aloud, and she said she thought of vision like that, as “just another piece of technology.”

The modern history of blind people is in many ways a history of reading, with the scope of the disability — the extent to which you are viewed as ignorant or civilized, helpless or independent — determined largely by your ability to access the printed word. For 150 years, Braille books were designed to function as much as possible like print books. But now the computer has essentially done away with the limits of form, because information, once it has been digitized, can be conveyed through sound or touch. For sighted people, the transition from print to digital text has been relatively subtle, but for many blind people the shift to computerized speech is an unwelcome and uncharted experiment. In grappling with what has been lost, several federation members recited to me various takes on the classic expression Scripta manent, verba volant: What is written remains, what is spoken vanishes into air.

Rachel Aviv is a Rosalynn Carter fellow for mental-health journalism with the Carter Center and writes frequently on education for The Times.

Discussion of this article in the comments is encouraged. How do you feel about Aviv’s portrayal of the NFB convention? How about the comparison of the Braille literacy experience for blind people with resistance against cochlear implants in the deaf community? What are your thoughts on the intriguing medical research quoted in the story? All constructive ideas and opinions are always welcome in the comments to this and all other Blind Access Journal posts. We wish all our loyal readers a happy New Year and a better, more accessible 2010.

15 opinions on “Listening to Braille

  1. I am deafblind and there is no way, in my mind to compare braille literacy amongst the blind to the implantation of cochlear implants amongst the D/deaf community.

    Many Deaf who appose implantation do so because they don't want to lose their culture or their language. People who implant children usually sign a contract stating that they will use oral methods only when educating their children. If the parents abide by the contract– these children won't go to schools for the deaf where Deaf culture is all around them. They will not be exposed to American Sign Language until they are adults and can choose for themselves.

    Blind people do not have a culture and they do not share a common language such as the Deaf community does.

    The only way these issues are remotely the same is that they tend to be divisive.

    Personally, I think all children should be taught to read and write braille. This is not just because I'm a braille teacher and need the job security, either. (grin)

    I think the more options one has in their tool box, the better off you are. I do think that braille does equal literacy if the child has not, or cannot read print.

    Not only do we learn to spell by reading, we learn how to format paragraphs, how to organize our thoughts in a systematic way.

    There is also the issue of orientation in the community. Reading braille on elevators, restroom doors and hotel room doors has been of immeasurable benefit to me and has allowed me to maintain a greater level of independence than if I had to ask someone to operate an elevator for me.

  2. I do have to take issue with the section about prose composition. i have seen so many poorly structured attempts by people who are otherwise considered educated that I have a great deal of trouble blaming how someone was taught. Composition like any other skill requires practice and feedback. It would not surprise me if teachers attempting to deal with a blind student in a mainlined setting simply let such things slide rather than calling the student on it.

    Practice without feedback can be worse than no practice at all. Bad habits can be reinforced, becoming ingrained until feedback is incapable of breaking through.

  3. A lot of what was written in the article–like the prose mention that the last poster pointed out–can also be applied to sighted people. I have seen just as badly written text by sighted people who know print and use it on a daily basis. Why aren’t we criticizing people for text messaging too much? Why does it always have to be blind people in the hot seat? “Oh if a blind person can’t write well, that’s a huge problem. But if a sighted person can’t…aww that’s okay, they’re just ‘below grade level.'” I’m all for “Braille literacy”; it has its advantages like the article mentioned, but to find a link between not knowing Braille and poor writing skills is absurd. I think the study needs to be done by an organization that is not out for a specific goal. NFB may have put their own bias in to it, and that’s why I’m glad the author pointed out that the figures are contraversial. Yes, it is alarming that this many blind people *MAY BE ILLITERATE,* but I have known blind people who know Braille to write just as poorly as the isolated example the author gave in the article.

    I love Braille and have a PAC Mate because of its attachable Braille display. It’s difficult for me to grasp not knowing Braille. I really do believe it is a big problem, and I’m glad NFB brought attention to it.

  4. I was very interested and heartened to read Ms Aviv’s article. My son has a learning disability – based on an infarct in his peri-occipital cortex as an infant..he has great difficulty learning to read – he is 8 and can barely recognize 3 word sentences. He is a good auditory learner, but I fear he will be functionally illiterate. the school seems at a loss for meaningful approaches. His neuro-psychological assessment recommended interventions for the visually impaired. Is this Braille, or are there other methods? Would the braille learning conflict with his (albeit limited) visual learning ? I would be so grateful for your views. Many thanks. Gail

  5. I was very interested and heartened to read Ms Aviv’s article. My son has a learning disability – based on an infarct in his peri-occipital cortex as an infant..he has great difficulty learning to read – he is 8 and can barely recognize 3 word sentences. He is a good auditory learner, but I fear he will be functionally illiterate. the school seems at a loss for meaningful approaches. His neuro-psychological assessment recommended interventions for the visually impaired. Is this Braille, or are there other methods? Would the braille learning conflict with his (albeit limited) visual learning ? In other words, would the tactile learning conflict with his limited visual learning I would be so grateful for your views. Many thanks. Gail

  6. Hi,
    If he can learn to read Braille better than he can learn print, I say go for it. I think everyone should have a style of writing that isn’t totally electronic. Whether Braille will interfere with his visual senses, ‘m not sure. Schools can be a bit stubborn when it comes to things like this though, since you probably need to fall within a certain range of blindness for them to teach you Braille. I visualize Braille letters just liek sighted people visualize print when I say the word “water” for instance, and that’s the key to a literate person I think–to be able to visually represent letters and words. So yes, give it a shot, and good luck!

  7. With all due respect to Munawar, I do not agree that it is absurd to find a link between not knowing Braille and poor writing skills. Notice that the article doesn’t say that knowing Braille guarantees good writing skills. It only says that not knowing Braille generally leads to poor writing skills. I personally don’t think it is a stretch to posit that a person who does not know how to read and write would not be a good writer.

    Yes, Braille is bulky. Yes, Braille texts take a long time to produce, but for a person who does not have enough usable vision to read print, like it or not, Braille is the only means for that person to truly become literate. What’s absurd beyond belief is this notion that a person who is listening to a book is reading. I suppose a person who listens to a book is “Reading” in a figurative sense, much in the way a totally blind person “Watches” TV in a figurative sense, but the literal act of reading is not taking place. No enforcement of spelling, punctuation or sentence structure is happening.

    When I read Sloate’s comments my blood nearly boiled. In terms of her job, she is fortunate to have people do her reading and writing for her. I find it amazing that she considers reading Braille as arcane, but doesn’t have any problem whatsoever with sighted people doing her reading and writing for her. Why stop there? Why not have sighted people dress and feed you while you’re at it Laura?

    Okay, rant over.

  8. Hi,
    Agreed–her comment about Braille being something that doesn’t have a place today is a comment that made me fume as well. I find it hard to imagine that someone can be that tuned to listening–where they start down talking Braille. She really made it seem like Braille is a second-class thing. I’d hate to be so dependent on someone just to read magazines to me–especially if that person is my co-worker and not personal assistant; what if they decide not to show up one day? I seriously doubt she’s taking in all that information she’s getting through her ears. Personally, I’d find it disrespectful if someone’s reading something else while I’m reading to them :d.

  9. A chill ran down me when that woman suggested abolishing Braille. I had 20/20 vision as a younger person, losing my sight after high school, so I learned to read and write with sight; however, I am a Braille reader, be it slow at times. I’ve met blind kids who are functionally illiterate because of reliance on audio equipment. I also find myself having to look words up because I rely on audio so much. There is a truth in what was said about the benefit of knowing the shape of words. When I first learned to read Braille, I had to translate the Braille symbol I felt under my finger to the memory of the print image in my brain back to the Braille under my finger. I realized in college that this translation was growing less necessary when I started to hand-write telephone messages as an intern and some of my hand-written letters took on the shape of Braille symbols. Braille is relevant and should not ever be set aside. Even if you dont’ read with it, blind people use it for labeling and doing other things like playing cards or Scrabble, etc. I cannot see any benefit in eliminating it. I use it every day at work despite my screen reading software. I cannot imagine having to dictate everything either. That woman is iliterate and ignorant for thinking it’s ok to be illiterate. From her words, I gather her parents didnt’ push for Braille literacy.
    She said she learned the sound of letters and not the shape- very sad- I think that is very sad.

  10. Hi darrell. Great article. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. I’ve never seen such a comprehensive article about disability minutiae in a mainstream newspaper. Great to see.

    we’re all so different. I learnt Braille at 13 when I went blind. And to communicate with the sighties, I was taught to use a standard typewriter as I believe we all were. Looking back on it, it’s astonishing that I used a clunky old mechanical gizmo to write stuff with and just had to trust that I’d typed it correctly … because there was no way of knowing. And no way of knowing if the ribbon had run out of ink either.

    There was basic speech on computers but I just couldn’t get my head around it. I was newly blind and was used to looking at a computer monitor. Speech happens through time and doesn’t exist in a physical space. Once it’s been played, it’s not there to look at. You have to make it talk again. That’s why I naturally gravitated to using a Braille display with my computer.

    In 1991, I got my first proper computer as a blind person – a Toshiba laptop. And with it I used a Braille display called a Navigator. It didn’t even occur to me that I might want speech – I thought it was rubbish. I’d gone through A-level computing trying to code in C++ and basic without being able to scrutinise my work properly as far as I was concerned, because my computer at school only had speech and hence the code wasn’t ‘in front of me’ as I thought of it.

    The article didn’t touch on Braille displays. And I only got into understanding how speech could be useful once they decided to join the two up in a product called ScreenPower I believe. I got hold of that around 1995 post university. How did I survive university with a DOS laptop, no speech, no internet and no books?

    Using braille with a computer is amazingly liberating and, I’d argue, helps to enforce spelling, grammar and layout in a way speech can’t do on its own.

    So, to any educationalists out there reading this, I strongly urge you to think about a Braille display with a computer. It aids in tech and print literacy like nothing else.

    Follow me on Twitter:
    http://twitter.com/DamonRose

  11. Here’s my little anecdote that proves the power of braille.
    I was raised in the Lutheran denomination of Christianity. Lutheran
    services employ lay readers. We have three readings each Sunday:
    one from the Old Testament, one from the Epistles, and one from the Gospels.
    Lay-persons read the first two, while the pastor reads the last.
    I was a lay reader for several years, even though I was born totally blind.
    I could not have done that without braille.
    The Lutheran Church also makes heavy use of liturgy. The congregation
    is expected to recite from it frequently during services.
    I used braille copies of the liturgy. We also practice congregational
    singing. That is, the congregation sings hymns, written in hymnals.
    My hymnal was in braille. I was always an active participant in services.
    So here’s what I have to say to the audio-only crowd:
    put that in your pipe and smoke it!

    — Chris

  12. I forgot to ask. How will those who dispise braille read to their children?
    Will you subject your children to a bedtime story read by the loving voice
    of a synthesizer? How about a talking book?
    The point I’ve tried to make with both these comments is that the mere
    act of reading with our fingers can give us sources of enjoyment above and
    beyond the pure acquisition of information.

  13. When I read Sloate’s ignorant and arrogant comments suggesting Braille be abolished, I couldn’t help thinking of Marie Antoinette’s statement “Let The following article was published on Suite 101 in response to Aviv’s piece. I also wrote an in depth series on the Braille literacy crisis for American Chronicle in 2009. It was unfortunate in this age of short attention spans that the lead was given over to this misinformed and arrogant Wall Street exec. Her suggestion is the Braille equivalent of “Let them eat cake.”
    Braille Literacy Crisis – Fact or Fiction
    Jan 16, 2010
    http://educationalissues.suite101.com/article.cfm/2009_in_review_progress_for_the_blind
    Not blind? Don’t know anyone who is? The CDC predicts exploding diabetes-related blindness. Will declining Braille literacy affect taxpayers? Or, is Braille obsolete?

  14. Bob and Donna, bravi! You have said all I was screaming inside my mind as I read the article, so I won’t repeat the ideas. I’ll just add I don’t know who this Laura is, but that kind of dependence on gizmos doesn’t look like rehabilitation in my book. What happens when she gets “detached” from them?
    Oh, this is so unexpected yet fascinating to me! I truly wasn’t aware the situation regarding braille literacy was so serious in the US. Fascinating because I am in Paraguay, one of those developing countries the article mentions, where assistive technology is pretty much a mystery, and access to it is very, very limited. I got a Fulbright scholarship and I’m just ready to move to Michigan next month for a couple of years for graduate studies, where I will explore the role of assistive technology in education of and job opportunities for the visually impaired.
    Be well,
    Vicky

  15. I forgot to add I am totally blind from birth, and simply can’t conceive my education, my life, without braille. Like Daimon Rose, I learned braille when I was six and to type in a standard typewriter at ten (since I was going to a regular school), and only had my first encounter with a reading program when I finished high school, and full access to computers through Jaws after my undergraduate studies, with savings from my first job. I hardly ever got access to braille textbooks in my school years (never had English books at all), so sometimes an aid teacher would transcribe passages, or passed fourth grade I would transcript them myself from some recording, or mom would simply try to find me some alternative reading… but I don’t see this as shortcomings in my education, since thanks to all that, I got to practice a lot and reinforce all the structuring skills braille literacy helps develop.A couple of years ago I was in New York, and the braille room numbers and names, elevators, etc, (accessibility we’re very slowly starting to get here in Paraguay) gave me such a sense of freedom and independence. As I was checking the office of disabilities at my future university (offices which are non-existent here), I was thinking I won’t know what to do with so much accessibility…Hope I didn’t bore you to death in trying to make a point!

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