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Happy Birthday Louis Braille: The Future of Braille

(Happy Birthday)

On 4 January 1809, Louis Braille the man who created Braille was born. So, I thought it would be a good opportunity to talk about the future of Braille, to celebrate the anniversary being this month.

Having been blind all my life, I started learning Braille when I was three. I’ve always quite liked Braille, the feeling of the dots beneath my fingers and writing them. In fact, Braille is one of the things that makes me feel glad to be blind. This may have a lot to do with the fact that I love writing and Braille allows me to do that. I also love reading and again Braille allows me to do that for myself.

Therefore, it makes me sad when people say things like: will blind people need Braille in the future? Can’t they just use computers?

My response to this is what many people would say to the question of: why do we teach children to handwrite in schools? Because while the technology we have is great, it could break down. Therefore, to be prepared for that happening it is useful that sighted people have the skill of being able to write by hand, therefore Braille gives blind people the opportunity to do the same. And it is true, when technology breaks down, we just drag out the old fashioned Brailler, roll in some paper and off we go.

There’s also a bit of a sentimental reason. I like the fact that I can read for myself. I like to read, rather than be read to by a computer. It feels just that bit more independent somehow. Also, I find I take things in better when I actually read them. I’m not too sure how that works, but we all learn in different ways and I think blind people should at least have that opportunity.

Having said all that, technology has made Braille a lot more useful. When I say, I like to read and write Braille, I rarely use the old fashioned Brailler that people used to use years ago, nor do I always read Braille on paper.

This is because now we have machines called Braille notetakers. For those of you that may not know, a Braille notetaker is a bit like a computer. It will vary from model to model but generally speaking they’ll have a word processor, a file management system, a program that allows the user to view files without editing them, time and date facilities. Varying from model to model they may include: a media player that can play and record audio files, a planner, databases, a program that allows the user to connect to the internet, a program that allows users to access emails and applications for a bunch of other things.

So, what that means for me in practise, is that I can write things in Braille electronically. I can then print them off in Braille or in print. I can save them to a USB memorystick or SD card in a variety of file formats such as plain text or Microsoft word document to be read on a computer. I can take word documents, plain text files, rich text format files, html files, pdfs, powerpoints and other file formats, and convert them in to Braille for me to read.

There is much debate among blind people as to how much they like their Braille notetakers. I know some blind people who love them and use them all the time, I am one of those people. I also know people who strongly dislike them and would much rather use a computer. But again, I think it’s nice that people have that choice. There are certain things, such as emailing and using the internet, for which I’d rather use a computer. But I feel it’s nice that I and other blind people have the options there.

Braille is a way for the blind to read and write independently and it’s something I hope continues to play a part in the future of technology, because it really is a wonderful creation. So, I will finish by saying, thank you to Louis Braille for inventing Braille and happy birthday.

Do you know Braille? How important do you think it is? We’d love to hear your thoughts, please share them in the comments below.

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