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Braille week 2020: Does braille still have relevance in today's tech society?

Cher_Alumni Scope alumni Posts: 5,740 Disability Gamechanger
edited October 2020 in Sensory impairments
This past week (5-11 October 2020) has been National Braille Week 2020. Organised by Sight Scotland, the event aims to highlight the importance of braille for blind and visually impaired people.

What is braille and why is it used?

Sight Scotland explain that Braille is: 

“...a tactile code enabling blind and visually impaired people to read and write by touch, with various combinations of raised dots representing the alphabet, words, punctuation and numbers.”

The benefits of using Braille are:

  • Having equal access to the written word and printed text
  • Increasing personal independence by using braille to safely navigate public spaces
  • Using braille in the workplace to assist in carrying out duties
  • Being able to use new braille-assisted technology

Hands typing on braille display with keyboard in background

Is braille still relevant as technology advances?

Invented in the 19th century, braille has historically been the only reading aid available to visually impaired and blind people.  However as with most things, the development of new technology has changed this.

The Royal National Institute of the Blind list various assistive technology options now on offer including:

“Reading aids - blind people requiring access to print can use a scanner with optical character recognition (OCR) technology to convert print into electronic text that can then be read by synthetic speech technology.”

These, and invention of computer screen-readers, calls into question the role of braille as we head into the future. 

Interview with Nathan Tree

We spoke to Nathan Tree, the founder of Blind Ice Hockey UK, about his experience of learning braille and why he feels it still has benefits over new technology.

Nathan stood on a path in a park surrounded by trees holding a black dog on a lead

How did you learn braille?

I learned braille by using a mixture of the Royal National Institute of Blind People Fingerprints course and the United English Braille (UEB) course from UEB Online. 

Was it harder than you expected? 

I thought learning to read by touch would be harder, but I picked it up quickly. Getting faster at it is the harder part. Also, I struggle with remembering all the contractions in grade 2 but am getting better with time. 

What do you now use braille for in your daily life? 

I have started reading regularly in braille which is nice as i read with the voice in my head and can imagine more when compared to reading with audiobooks. I have also started using it to label things in my house and am learning to use it to control my iPhone and computer. 

Would you recommend it to other visually impaired people?

Yes. It has been a huge undertaking so far but I am enjoying being able to read again. 

There is an argument that braille is becoming increasingly redundant due to new technology. What are your thoughts on that? 

Reading braille it means you can be more literate. When listening to things being read by technology or other people you do not understand punctuation or how things are spelled. This way you can engage with the literature on a higher level. There is also a lot of braille tech out there that is standalone and also enhances technology for braille users. Using voice assistance is great, but everyone else can hear what you are doing so it compromises privacy where braille can be more discreet.

Nathan is @BlindEdSheeran on Twitter

Over to you:

  • Do you or anyone you know use braille?  How does it help?
  • Do you agree with Nathan that braille is still needed and has advantages over new technology?
  • Or, do you disagree and prefer new digital technology?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
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  • Chloe_Scope
    Chloe_Scope Posts: 10,581 Disability Gamechanger
    Some really interesting points! I don't use Braille due to loosing my sight when I was 18. However, I know it is especially useful for reading content. It would be a real shame if it was to disappear.  

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