Learning braille: why every person who is blind should consider it
The Royal National Institute for Blind people states that only around seven percent of people who are registered blind or visually impaired in the United Kingdom use braille. That means that 93% of this group does not use it! Braille is a great communication tool for people who are blind or visually impaired. Learning how to use it could benefit them in multiple ways on a daily basis. Because we believe braille can improve quality of life, and because there are a lot of misconceptions, we dedicated this blog to the benefits of learning braille. We hope you get inspired!
What is braille?
Braille is a code designed to be read by the touch of your fingers. The code consists of raised dots. These dots are arranged in two columns. The different ways of placing these dots represent letters and numbers. There are two grades of braille. Uncontracted braille, also known as Grade 1, is braille written by using individual letters, numbers, and punctuation marks. Contracted braille, also known as Grade 2, uses contractions for combinations of letters or common words such as ‘ing’, ‘the’, and ‘for’. This reduces the length of documents and increases the speed at which braille users read.
Being literate means the ability to read and write. Literacy is immensely important. Sighted people learn this from a very young age. They go to primary school and start learning letters, then sentences, and eventually whole stories. For people who are blind and visually impaired, this is not the case. For children who are born with a visual disability, it is not mandatory to learn how to read and write. Which is insane if you think about it.
Reading vs. Listening
Studies show that reading, for the average adult, is faster than listening. The average adult reads about 250 to 300 words per minute. Whereas the recommended talking speed is 150 to 160 words per minute. To put this into perspective, an auctioneer speaks around 250 words per minute. But nobody wants that. The average braille user reads 125 words per minute. This is slower than the talking speed but that doesn’t mean braille doesn’t have benefits over listening.
Studies have shown that reading is a more effective way to receive, process, and share information than audio. Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia explains this theory. About 10 to 15% of eye movements during reading are regressive. This means that the eyes are going back over the text you just read to check it again. You could also pause an audiobook or go over the same part again but it doesn’t get done as often.
Another reason that reading is more effective is our wandering minds. It doesn’t matter if we read or listen, we zone out for a couple of seconds or even minutes. If you’re reading a printed book, it is not difficult to go back. If you are listening, you are more inclined to keep listening instead of going back. Therefore, you miss certain information.
Another aspect that benefits reading braille over listening to audio is being able to spell certain words. By listening to instead of reading you would never know how to spell a name or place. Or know the difference between two names that are pronounced the same but spelled in a different way.
Additionally, to spelling, grammar is a big part of a language. Punctuation can be very tricky when using audible technology. Punctuation is not always used correctly, which in turn causes confusion when listening instead of reading. Audible technology will just keep going as if there is not a comma or full stop. Reading it yourself can prevent this.
More job opportunities
Being able to use braille improves your chance of being employed. Literacy is an important factor for employment. The unemployment rate within the group of non-braille users is about 77% whereas is it 44% for braille users. Being able to use braille increases your chances of being employed significantly.
Braille is a fast and efficient way of communication and very useful when working with written documents such as manuals, reports, or other files. By combining your knowledge of braille along with assistive technology such as screen readers of braille keyboards, people who are blind or visually impaired are able to work successful in a wide range of jobs.
Be more independent
Braille comes with a lot more independence for people who are blind and visually impaired. You are able to read and write without needing the help of a sighted person. This gives you more independence on a daily basis. You are able to label certain products and items around your house. Things like the microwave, oven, and refrigerator can be labeled. But also the spices in your kitchen or the drawers in your closet. Besides labeling things, yourself, there are also other things that already use braille.
A lot of public spaces such as elevators use braille. But also certain products like medicine can be read by braille users. These are all examples of braille being able to give you a more independent lifestyle.
Have more privacy
It does not only give you more independence. Using braille in your daily life also provides you with privacy. You don’t need sighted people to help you read and write which gives you the independence to keep certain parts of your life private. Most banks and government organizations provide their documents in braille. Therefore, you don’t have to share this kind of information with anyone but yourself.
Some items in the grocery store such as medicine are also often braille labeled. This means that you can go out and shop for it yourself instead of asking a friend or family member to do so.
Another part of privacy that you can get back when you use braille has to do with your smartphone. If you use technology such as Voiceover, you talk to your phone and tell it what to write or search. In this way, the people around you can eavesdrop. Whereas with braille, you can use a braille keyboard and you no longer have this issue.
Being able to use braille technology
We currently live in a digital age. A lot of our time is spent online. We browse the internet, scroll through social media platforms and chat with friends and family. This online world has not been the friendliest place for people that are blind or visually impaired, accessibility-wise. However, times are changing and technology keeps improving.
We now have easy access to audiobooks and podcasts. Giving people who are blind or visually impaired more ways to consume their information. But the digital technology still falls short in writing. Speech-to-text software such as Apple’s Voiceover enables you to speak and they convert your words. However, this is not ideal and comes with its difficulties. The transcription software can fail to convert correctly. For example, when people have a thick accent of articulate not well enough.
Assistive technology that uses braille helps you with this problem.
It gives you more privacy when there are others around
Speech-to-text software is not foolproof
You are independent to write texts yourself