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Bruce Atchison on Braille Skills

March 12, 2013 | 0 Comments


According to The National Federation of the Blind’s report from the Jernigan Institute, there is a “Braille Literacy Crisis in America.” They claim that fewer than 10 percent of the 1.3 million people who are legally blind in the United States are Braille readers. Only 10 percent of blind children in the US are learning Braille. Over 70 percent of blind adults are unemployed, and as many as 50 percent of blind high school students drop out. The report’s authors blame this on factors such as a shortage of qualified Braille teachers, an increasing reliance on recorded audio, and text-to-speech technologies.

I now recognize the benefits of knowing braille, particularly as my vision is failing to the point that I can barely read notes I wrote to myself with felt pens. If my sight worsens, I’ll have to relearn braille. It certainly would help me keep track of writing opportunities and I could make my own address and phone directory. Here is an excerpt from his book, Deliverance from Jericho:

In the autumn of 1966, my vision was somewhat better than it is today. I couldn’t understand then why I had to learn something that I believed was meant only for totally blind people. From Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School), this excerpt shows that even my teachers didn’t realize how beneficial Lewis Braille’s alphabet would be to their students.

Another subject which caused me difficulty was braille. “I can see large print. Why do I have to learn braille?” I objected.

“You have to learn it. It’s part of the curriculum,” Mrs. Auld explained.

I tried not to look at the arrangement of dots on the page but occasionally the temptation became too strong. “Stop looking at the paper,” our teacher admonished whenever I peeked.

As I returned to feeling the page and trying to figure out which letter my finger was on, I silently wished Louis Braille had not invented his alphabet of raised dots.

Mrs. Auld also began teaching us to braille with a slate and stylus. This device was a long strip of metal with a hinge in the middle. Half of the strip was perforated with holes which formed the braille letter cells and the other half had corresponding dimples.braille paper was inserted between the arms of the metal strips and the stylus was poked through the holds, creating braille text.

Using a slate and stylus proved difficult. I had to learn the braille letters in reverse so they would come out right on the paper. It was like learning a whole new alphabet. As with braille lessons, my teacher gave me no choice in the matter. Consequently, I hated each lesson. Using the Perkins brailler, a typewriter-like device with eight keys on its front, seemed to be a much more efficient way to write braille. The machine was heavy but at least I could relate better to it than brailling backwards with a slate and stylus.

Deliverance from Jericho contains many more vignettes of what life was like in that government-run institution. These range from poignant experiences of homesickness to hilarious incidents of mischief.