The Vision Rehab Podcast is a short monthly podcast about topics and issues related to vision rehabilitation therapists and vision rehab. You can also listen on your smart speaker, just ask for, “Vision Rehab Podcast.”
January is Braille Awareness Month in honor of Louis Braille’s birthday on January 4th, 1809. As a student at the Paris Royal Institute for Blind Youth he developed a representation of the alphabet using a system of raised dots which became very popular with the other students. It was a big hit at first because the kids were able to pass notes back and forth in their new secret code created by Louis Braille. Over the year’s Braille’s system of raised dots became more widely used than other systems of raised symbols and is used around the world today as a way to read with the fingertips.
Children with low vision or who are blind are taught braille in school for reading, mathematics, and music notation. Teachers for the Visually Impaired (TVIs) teach braille to school-age kids. Those of us who spent the better part of our lives with vision rarely know much about Braille except that it is a system of raised dots on paper, and it’s also a symbol associated with blindness.
The other night at dinner a friend asked me what the future for braille is, because he knows I work with people who have a vision loss, some of whom are braille readers.
It’s an interesting question, and I think there is an assumption that in this age of technology and computers, tablets and smartphones with screen readers built in, that braille will become less and less relevant. He wondered if those of us who have difficulty reading print will just ask our smart devices to read for us. Rather than learn braille?
What’s interesting, I think, is that the very technology used to put screen readers on our devices is also allowing us to connect braille displays, which connect to our other devices, to read and write in braille. In fact, the Library of Congress Talking Books Program is rolling out electronic braille readers in many states to their patrons who read braille at no cost. It’s easier and more efficient to deliver braille on a small electronic device with a braille display, than sending out books of paper braille. As a result, braille will become easier to get.
There’s much more to braille than just reading. Simply learning the alphabet or a couple letters in braille makes labeling things simple and efficient, in places where the lighting is poor, or the print too small to read. And with a quick touch, we know exactly what we have without hunting for the magnifying glass or extra light. A simple one or two letter label, for an item in the freezer, on a medicine bottle, or on those spices in the cupboard can make it so much easier to find something.
For an adult who wants to learn braille Hadley has offered free correspondence courses for over 100 years. These courses have morphed into workshops that can be taken online from their website at Hadley.edu, or from a telephone. And no, it doesn’t need to be a smartphone. You can listen to the workshop over your landline with workbooks that Hadley will send you at no cost. Just call them at 800-323-4238 to get started.
Also, vision rehabilitation therapists (VRTs) teach braille to adult clients who will benefit from it for labeling, and even for those who want to learn contracted braille, used for reading and writing. VRTs can be found at many state vocational rehab agencies and community agencies for the visually impaired. To find one, check out the VisionAware Directory of services online at www.visionaware.org, or call the APH Connect Center at 800-232-5463 to find a VRT near you. And by the way, the vision rehab therapist does much more than teach braille. These professionals provide the primary rehabilitation services for individuals with a vision loss. This includes all kinds of adapted training for daily living tasks, recreation, work, and technology.
So Happy Birthday to Louis Braille this month and a shout out to the TVIs and vision rehabilitation therapists that teach braille as an alternative to print. There’s a lot more to braille than you might have thought!