Every January, the visually impaired and legally blind, their loved ones, and their advocates (many of which sit in one or more of these demographics) recognize Braille Literacy Month. As one can probably ascertain from the title, participants hope to stoke the dwindling use of the revolutionary reading system. Audio technology may have curbed Braille usage in the classroom and workplace, but that doesn’t dilute its significance or usefulness any, of course. Educating oneself and the rest of the populace about visual impairments, blindness, and the reality of Braille marks the best strategy for promoting its prolificacy.
- Braille is not a language
Actually, nearly every widely-spoken language out there sports its own Braille system: it isn’t relegated exclusively to English. Or written language in general! Math, computer science, and music (which was developed quite early in the system’s existence) all have their own unique system to accommodate the visually impaired as well.
- Lessons in Braille begin with tactile exercises
National Braille Week’s official site notes the Royal Blind School’s strategies for educating visually impaired children initially involve activities meant to fortify their fingertips. Uniquely textured objects are placed in trays, and young students must sort them based on how they feel. These activities enhance their tactile sensitivity for more advanced notebook-based exercises starting in their teen years.
- Louis Braille developed his eponymous system at age 15
After a horrific childhood accident that blinded him with an awl, Louis Braille spent his early teens parsing together a system allowing himself and other visually-impaired individuals the ability to keep reading and learning. 1824 saw the invention of the writing style bearing his name, which he developed as a 6-dot structure building on Charles Barbier de la Sarre’s military methods intended for night deciphering.
- At 20, he published the first complete book about the Braille system
Method of Writing Words, Music, and Plain Songs by Means of Dots, for Use by the Blind and Arranged for Them hit classrooms in 1829, detailing all the ins and outs of Louis Braille’s brand new system. As one can probably expect from its lasting influence, it proved an incredibly valuable asset in schools educating the visually impaired.
- Six-dot Braille cells have 63 possible combinations
Each cell is arranged as an affair with two dots across and three down. A through J sit in the top two rows, K through T include the last, and U through Z add the last two dots to the first five letters. W, however, plays by its own rules owing to the fact that the original French included no such letter.
- There are three different “grades” of Braille
Every grade represents a different skill level, with 1 being best for those just starting to learn Braille and 3 for the more familiar. Basic letters and punctuation characterize the first, while the second builds off of that to include contractions – making it the most common version found in public. Once a person hits Grade 3 Braille, he or she can learn the shorthand for personal use, such as lists and notes, rather than more formalized literature.
- “Braille for feet” exists
In order for businesses to meet standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act, Tilco Vanguard developed a veritable “Braille for feet” that assists the visually impaired in knowing the boundaries of dangerous areas. Technically referred to as “truncated domes,” these bright yellow strips spell out a universal message in order to keep store and restaurant patrons safe.
- Legally blind children in the United States do not use Braille resources
Shockingly enough, 34% of the 59,341 legally blind American children (defined by the American Printing House for the Blind as between the ages of 0 and 21) are considered non-readers. That comprises the majority, by the way. Nine percent stick with Braille; 27% are capable of reading visually; 8% get their lessons done as auditory readers; the last 22% qualify as pre-readers.
- At least 27 states
hold legislation requiring that legally blind children have access to Braille resources
Advances in audio technology have not rendered the Braille system moot, of course, but they did signify a general decline in usage since 1963. Combined with the mounting number of non-reading, visually impaired children, advocacy groups gathered together in order to ask policymakers for more protective legislation. In response, at least 27 states so far have made sure to protect them from discrimination by requiring educational institutions to provide Braille materials to visually impaired kids who need them.
- Visually impaired readers who learned on Braille have a lower unemployment rate than their print counterparts
Earlier studies noted that visually impaired persons who first learned to read using the Braille system hold a 44% unemployment rate. By contrast, those more accustomed to print media — or incapable of reading Braille, as it were —sat at a staggering 77%.
- The vast majority of legally blind students attend schools where the teachers do not know Braille
Eighty-five percent, in fact. Most visually impaired and legally blind students in the United States receive their education in mainstream classrooms, many of them ill-equipped to meet their needs. Since so many teachers know little to nothing of Braille, this results in a reduced literacy rate and more academic struggles.
- Braille users write with a slate and stylus
Slates obviously differ in size, but the National Federation of the Blind states that 2″x9″ and 3″x5″ are the most popular dimensions. Writing in Braille using the stylus and slate system is pretty much exactly like its pen and paper equivalent.
- Braille and sign language are not interchangeable
Startlingly enough, some people actually believe that Braille and sign language are more or less the same! Braille addresses the needs of the visually impaired and utilizes the 6-dot system that, for everyday writing, requires a stylus and slate or Braillewriter machine; sign language comes conveyed via hand and arm movements benefiting the hearing-impaired. Individuals with both conditions use palm printing to communicate, which involves tracing letters on hands.
- Most legally blind people can read print
It’s a common misconception that the blind can only read in Braille, but reality says otherwise. With corrective lenses, magnification, large print, and other accommodations, 75% of the legally blind do just fine with books.