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Braille…What does it mean to you?

Vision Rehab Podcast logo closeup of an eyeThe 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.”

Listen Now to Braiile…What does it mean toyou?


Louis Braille’s birthday this past January 4th got me thinking about how we look at braille. Specifically, how people who had good sight most of their life and are now adjusting to a vision loss later in life. What do they  think about learning braille. As a vision rehabilitation therapist, I’ve found it’s not uncommon for people new to vision loss to be reluctant to consider learning even the most basic braille for simple tasks like labeling medication, or food in the pantry.

I’m not surprised. An Op-ed that first appeared in the NY Times ten years ago titled, “Why Do We Fear the Blind?” by Rosemary Mahoney, is haunting in its description of the many ways that cultures around the world tend to fear and shun blindness.

Several nths ago, while making a follow-up call to a man who ordered training material related to his vision loss, the phone was answered by a woman other than the man who origina;;y placed the order. When I told her who I was and the purpose of the call, she quickly blurted out, “He is not blind! He is not blind! Don’t you ever call here again!”

I think `braille, perhaps like a white cane, is a symbol for many people of blindness. While many people with a vision loss, may actually be legally blind, they often do have some remaining sight, and don’t see themselves as “blind.” As a result, they have a difficult time adjusting to the idea of using a white cane to get around safely, or learning braille, because of the stigma, they imagine, to be associated with  both of them, and the fear of blindness in general.

A number of clients thought that learning braille will be like learning a whole new language. Braille is not a separate language, it is just a code of dots used to make English or many other languages tactile, something that can be read by touch. So, for example, if you were to label your spices in the cupboard, where the lighting might be poor, spices like Cumin and Dill will be spelled the same way, just in the dots which correspond to the letters in the spice’s name. That isn’t to say, of course’ that braille is something that can be learned overnight, it’s just a different way to read the words we already know using raised dots rather than ink on paper.

And just as the printed word has morphed in the last two decades from paper to digital words on a screen, braille too is in the midst of a dramatic transformation, from dots on paper, to raised dots on an electronic braille display. One of the things that is transforming the availability of braille in this country is the new braille eReader, provided at no cost, to patrons of the National Library Service (NLS) Talking Book Program. Any one with a vision loss may request a braille eReader, at no cost, which will download books and magazines in braille and display the words on a twenty cell braille display. And it’s small and portable– about the size and weight of a paperback book.

While some may find learning and practicing enough braille to read a book, something they’re unwiling t do,  there are many other alternatives, to reading with reduced vision, like text to speech on the computer or smarphone, audio books, etc. So, for most folks, braille will be just another valuable tool that comes in handy for reading a sigh, creating labels, or an overlay for those flat screen appliances,

And for those who do take the braille plunge, it is a rich world, like the world of visual print where we can live within the words we’reading, reread them again and again, stop and ponder, imagine their meaning and metaphors without a narrator guiding us with their voices.

A great place to learn braille is from a Hadley workshop. You can sign up at no cost by going to on the web, or calling Hadley at 800-323-4238. To check out one of the new braille eReaders, just go to the NLS website at or give them a call at 888-657-7323.

And if you’re already working with a vision rehabilitation therapist, just ask them about learning braille—they’re trained to teach braille!


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