Are we witnessing the demise of braille?

I am sometimes asked to write recommendation letters for students who have interned or volunteered at National Braille Press and are looking to go to college, qualify for a scholarship, or find a job.  Many of these requests are from young adults who are blind or visually impaired.   I have worked with many interns and volunteers over the years, with many different skill sets, accomplishments, and personalities.  At NBP, however, they do have one thing in common: they are usually all proficient braille readers.

I wonder how much longer this will be true?  Don’t get me wrong, these students don’t use braille exclusively.  I think you would be hard-pressed to find anyone these days who doesn’t use some other form of technology to accomplish tasks that used to be done almost entirely with braille. But braille is still viewed by these students as an essential means to literacy.

Technology is changing the way students learn, and blind students are no exception.  One may argue that the technological boon has had an even bigger impact on blind and visually impaired students, and in many ways, this is a good thing. But with technology changing so quickly – the National Academy of Sciences estimates that the rates of technological change in the 21st century is equivalent to all the change in the previous twenty thousand years – will the loss of braille skills be the fallout? Will the shiny lure of iPads and the ease and economy of using audio tools hasten its demise?

As an organization that believes in the power of braille, what role will NBP play in the digital age?

9 thoughts on “Are we witnessing the demise of braille?

  1. Ironically, I read this blog in braille, on the Internet, instantly translated from print by my shiny new Braille Sense. The truth is that braille is now more available and useful than ever. In the old days, access to braille was very limited and the amount of material offered in braille was frustratingly inadequate. Today, thanks to organizations such as Bookshare.org, the number of books available in digital braille format has increased exponentially—and with the advances in scanning and translation software, there’s nothing out there I can’t read in braille. The blogger suggests that many tasks are now being done with other forms of technology that used to be done exclusively in braille, but from where I sit, the exact opposite is true. You may be reading this comment in print, or listening to the audio output, but I’m writing it in braille. And no matter how you respond, I’ll be reading those responses in braille.

  2. My thoughts are similar to KaitiS..technology has the possibility to supplant some learning in both the blind and sighted population..can your sighted teen add two numbers without reaching for the calculator feature on their phone..? Yet-if anyone suggested they would then not need to learn how to read..we would be appalled, so it should be accepted for the VI population, either. Certainly technology can and should supplement, but it never should supplant literacy-whihc is reading whether it be Braille or print. It would be ideal if more devices could incorporate Braille within them-a Braille Nook for example. Literacy (reading) should never be a lost art to anyone. Some source of funding for TVIs would be wonderful-maybe something similar to the arrangement Smith has with Clarke to obtain a MEd in teaching the Deaf

  3. I agree that assistive technology may continue to lessen the use Braille within the blind / visually impaired communities but I don’t think we’ll ever see the complete demise of Braille. I know there are a ton of people out there who prefer audio over reading Braille but at the same time those people still want to be braille literate. This way they can have the best of both worlds, so to speak.

    Instead of one or the other (audio or braille); I see a future with assistive technology products that incorporate braille more and more. For example; instead of using the voiceover feature on iPhones; there will actually be mobile phones that feature braille and/or tactile interfaces. Here are a few concepts I’ve read about: http://www.yankodesign.com/2012/02/20/the-ultimate-braille-phone/ & http://www.concept-phones.com/?s=braille

    I may be way off on this but I hope not. I would hate to see a total shift away from the use of braille because in reality, it’ll lead to a whole generation of illiterate people within the blind community. While assistive technology and audio products are fantastic; I don’t think it’s a good idea for anyone to be totally dependent on them. If and/or when a product fails or a network gets interrupted for an extended period of time; a person who isn’t braille literate would be completely out of luck.

  4. Odd my comment did not enter here thefirst time. anyway, braille is literacy. Its how you read and write. speech does not do this. It is needed even for DeafBlind, such as myself. I wish cellphones and computers had built-in braille displays and braille on the keys. It is sickening that braille is offered for premium pricing.

  5. I think a more accurate question would be, “will technology sacrifice literacy for all?” The technology world is adapting for the sighted community too and not just the blind are effected. Yet, sighted people are at no risk for losing literacy with new technologies constantly being made available to them. True, the literacy rate of blind people is much lower, but I think that is more to do with the lack of TVIs we have to teach all those who need braille training and the large caseloads slammed on the teachers we do have. I do have a problem with those who use technology to avoid braille or because they think by not reading their life will somehow be made easier, but if I weren’t fortunate enough to receive braille instruction and technology was all I had to get me through school I would absolutely do what I had to do and use it. The more important concern should be about getting more well-qualified TVIs out into the field to teach braille and spread literacy as well as assistive technology skills, not worrying about whether technological advancements will ruin single-handedly cause the extinction of braille literacy.

  6. I believe that Braille is evolving along with everything else and that it will be here to stay for quite some time. There is a degree of uncertainty in in these fast-pace times where technology seems to be changing every two seconds, but there is a distinct advantage with the ability to read/write information as opposed to listening to/speaking it. At the moment, I cannot articulate that advantage easily, but there is something to having concrete access to information. Furthermore, the mind is less liable to wander when reading than with listening to audio (reading being more active than listening, perhaps?).

  7. Lots of questions in this posting; wish there were some practical words in answer – such as, it’s easier to learn to use technology if you can take Braille notes. This leads to my question – will the next blog will “answer” this blog?

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