“I’d like a braille menu, with a dollop of liberation, and some extra pickles, please”
We all know what it is like to ask for materials in braille. The responses to our requests run the gamut:
- ‘Yes, of course we can do that for you!”
- “We’re not required to, so we won’t.”
- “What’s ‘braille?’”
- “Gee, I didn’t think they still used that.”
- “Yes, our goal is try to get it done hopefully, if we can, within a year, if we have the resources and nothing else comes up that is more worthy of our limited funds.”
We breathe deeply, as we step into the unpredictable, choppy and often chilly tidal pool of Request. We breathe deeply as we take in each response, knowing this will not be the last time we need to ask. We know that we might be facing the need to fight for what we sometimes have the right to have, but often do not have the right to have, but need. Fighting takes a lot of energy, as does educating people. As does being without freedom—without our right to read.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires some entities (namely governmental and public educational organizations) to provide braille upon request. Private entities are not required to provide braille specifically, but are required to provide materials in a format accessible to the non-ink-print reader. This format can, at the discretion of the institution, take various forms including braille, or reading an entire document to the non-ink print reader over the telephone. The latter option is usually not very effective for us, but as the law now stands, it is within the right of the private institution to offer only that.
When pressed to provide us with braille, some private institutions will do so, sometimes because it is the right thing to do, sometimes for good public relations (although we braille readers are a pretty small population to impress), but many private institutions do not respond positively. To show a contrast: I frequent a popular restaurant in Cambridge Massachusetts, where I have asked about braille menus for over two years, and nothing has come of it except pluck, promises, sympathy and well-wishes. My local bank, on the other hand, received my request, researched their options and began sending me braille statements within months. They didn’t have to; they chose to. They chose to give me my freedom.
It can be difficult to ask for what we need. We have to do it constantly. We run the risk of being denied (sometimes crudely, rudely or cruelly), degraded, hurt and demoralized. But we must persist, and ask for braille materials when we need them. The ADA should have covered our right to read. Instead they left a yawning hole that we braille readers step or fall into everyday day, and we have the sore ankles to show for it. But we can persevere: we can advocate for changes to the law that will weave us into the fabric of social life; we can appreciate what we receive from the people who understand what our freedom looks like; and we can take the risk of educating the ink-print world about what braille means to us.
And we do all of this because, frankly, we must assume (if only for our own well-being in the world) that they care and mostly want to do the moral—if not legal—thing.
And we can talk with others about the burden of asking; others who understand that asking someone in power for one’s freedom is a very intense and courageous thing to do. Because, very clearly, when we are asking for anything in braille, we are asking to be freed. Until that freedom comes to us by law, we will need to continue to push for it, and have sore ankles. And sometimes, sometimes, we get that braille menu, with those extra pickles, and it includes that dollop of liberation.