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?