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Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Braille for Real Life

By Gayle Yarnall

There are some statistics regarding braille and successful employment in the United States. I don't have the exact numbers but these statistics go something like this. 70 to 80 percent of the working age population who is blind is either unemployed or vastly under employed. 2 out of every 10 people who are blind read braille. 80 percent of the gainfully employed blind population uses braille.

There is a story here that needs to be told.

Recently I was at a presentation that was given for a group of people about adaptive technology. There were three of us who were visually impaired giving this presentation. Two of the presenters were low vision and I am totally blind. All three of us could have been considered successful in our field, we were from different parts of the country, and we were of very different ages. We were all braille users.

When I was a child I had more vision than I do now but I never could read normal print. I went through school without much in the way of special services. I spent two years in elementary school at a school with a class for low vision kids. No one ever taught me braille; they never even gave me the option. I sat with my nose pressed against a large print struggling to read. In high school someone asked me if I wanted to learn braille. I said no and the subject was dropped. I still wonder why they did not ask me if I wanted to learn geometry, Braille certainly has been more important in my life than geometry ever was.

When I was 30 I was divorced and suddenly I was a single mom with three kids and no work experience. I new I would be in big trouble if I did not take advantage of all my options. I registered for rehab services and the councilor visited me and gave me a book to use to teach myself braille, a braille writer and he signed me up for typing lessons. I taught myself enough braille to read simple things in a week. I was amazed to see how simple it was to learn braille. It was just a code with logical patterns. It did not take my fingers long to get used to feeling the dots. The act of learning something new helped give me the confidence I needed to go out and look for a job and braille allowed me to communicate with myself. This was in 1976, before computers, talking or not.

I am not going to bore you with my life story. I just wanted to explain how I came to realize how important braille has been in my life.

I expect that you have heard it said that braille is literacy. When someone says that blind children can just use books on tapes, I like to say that visual kids could use tapes as well. Why go through the trouble to teach anyone to read. This usually stops that conversation right away and braille and large print becomes part of a visually impaired child's education plan.

I think it is harder to convince adults that braille will make a difference in their lives. People often think of braille as a way to read vast amounts of material and not as a simple way to label things and keep track of everyday life. You don't have to be a fast braille user or even use contracted braille to have braille improve your personal and professional life.

I use a braille display along with speech access on my computer. The braille display allows me to keep track of document formatting. Braille is a faster and less complicated way to read phone numbers and dollar amounts.

  • I use a braille note taker because I don't like talking technology in meetings with other people.
  • At home I use braille to label appliances, and CDs.
  • I read to my grand children from books that have print and braille, we call them bumpy books.
  • I play games with my grandchildren that are braille labeled.
  • I read braille gardening books to help me plan and care for my garden.
  • I use braille cookbooks and to keep my recipes straight.

In closing I want to say that I am a normal average person who learned braille as an adult and I can honestly say it changed my life.

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