Healthy Living: Visually impaired divided over role of Braille in the digital age
Only about 10 to 12 percent of the nation's blind population are able to read Braille, and some advocates are worried that the nearly 200-year-old system of writing for the visually impaired could be on its way out. YNN's Kafi Drexel filed the following report.
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Michael Cush was born with vision loss and learned Braille when he was a child, but he hardly uses it now.
"It's just not practical in my day-to-day life, mainly because it is very laborious and expensive to produce and also it is not very portable," says Cush.
About 90 percent of the visually impaired cannot read or write Braille at all. In addition to Cush's rationale, the reasons vary from advances in voice technology to more Americans losing their sight later in life.
The six-dot system was created by Louis Braille, a blind Frenchman, in 1825. Instructors like Audrey Schading at the Jewish Guild For The Blind support new technology, but say Braille should never be replaced, because not knowing it is akin to being illiterate.
"Some people learn it and then they choose to use it a lot. Some people use it not as much. At least they had the opportunity and the chance," says Schading. "To deny anyone that really hurts my soul."
Her students say knowing the skill is crucial to leading independent lives.
"It's very important for me to be here to learn Braille, to be able to talk to people, to communicate, to be able to read my Bible," says Braille student Jodelle Ojasmar. "Because it's a challenge when I go to church. They give me a verse, I can't read it."
One of the big challenges for some older adults who may lose their vision later in life is that they might not have the same tactile senses where they can really feel the Braille embossments. A simple solution here is switching from paper to plastic like this that can make a difference.
Equipment like Braille notetakers and other practice tools also help. In some cases, special smartphone display screens are also available, showing how electronic advances and Braille can work together instead of canceling one or the other out.
Schading says efforts are ongoing with entities like New York's Commission For The Blind to make access to Braille more affordable.
The guild is also working with colleges and universities to make sure more people are trained to teach it.