Is learning braille now optional? If so, why? Or is optional braille another example of the weakness in today’s educational system – decried by the Obama administration – that allows students to get by, not learn the tough subjects, and not graduate ready for college or a career? In letting today’s youth skip braille, are we handcuffing them for life?
Most would agree that learning can occur auditorily and that for many, auditory learning is the preferred mode. Many software applications (including those available from Bookshare) and devices render printed content as spoken language for readers with visual impairments and auditory learners. In fact, some educators now accept “auditory reading” as a form of reading. If all information can be acquired auditorily, some will say that braille is not required for learning, although supporters vehemently disagree and argue that it’s much easier to read and learn with braille.
Another argument in favor of braille is that it is easier to learn to spell and punctuate. Braille helps with understanding the complexity of sentences and the structure and meaning of language. These skills are essential for good writing which is still a necessity in higher education and will definitely increase options and success in a career. Text-to-speech applications are not designed to explicitly illustrate grammar or punctuation, such as reading “comma” or “semi-colon,” although some applications and devices will spell.
Beyond these first few academic reasons for learning braille, in this blog I want to uncover some of the less obvious benefits that contribute to life skills and quality of life. In consultation with blind colleagues and friends and through observation of their use of their braille devices, I have heard about many and will share a few.
When today’s blind students enter the working world and go to meetings, they will want to take notes on the meeting. How will they do it? They can’t speak their notes into a recorder without disrupting the meeting. Are their career choices limited? The ability to take notes is a critical career requirement and is not limited to just meetings.
As today’s blind students aspire to high level professions and to advance in their careers they will likely be asked to give a presentation, and while some speakers can deliver presentations from memory, most use notes. Is it possible to hear notes through an earbud and talk at the same time? The blind professionals I know subtly follow their notes on their note takers. Their fingers barely move. Their connection to their notes is more invisible than looking at and turning pieces of paper.
The hidden benefit I found most insightful came from a blind colleague, Rob Turner, a technical support manager at Bookshare who likes to read. When I asked what he liked most about knowing braille, he said, “why would I want to hear someone else’s interpretation of a character’s voice and personality? I like to imagine the characters for myself.”
This blog is a beginning. I’m sure readers will have many more ideas about why you like knowing braille, and I invite you all to comment, and to contribute to the discussion.