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By Sean Randall - Higher Level Teaching Assistant of IT

Blog published 1st July 2015 | Category: Top Tips

It’s surprising I can stand up straight. 5 years ago I used to cart huge cloth sacks of Braille books to the post office on a regular basis. 5 Years before that I had to carry, not only a laptop around but a hefty Perkins Brailler as well. Nowadays, hundreds of books are available in a phone on my belt or an eReader in my bag, and I can type on a device no heavier than a deck of playing cards. So what does all this suggest? That we should throw away our Braille skills and use technology for everything?

It might sound like a great idea to my poor teenage self, but really, we don’t want to cut off our noses to spite our faces here. If we forsake Braille entirely, we’re going to struggle.

The last few things I used Braille for, just in the last week, are:

  1. Determining which jar I wanted to shake into the soup (I needed curry, not herbs)
  2. Seeing what day the 15th of January next year was (I need to post a birthday card, which I’ll need a reminder to buy, closer to the time).
  3. Demonstrating some software to a group at work, where I had notes to read.
  4. Reading a newspaper article on the way into work (when the radio was so loud, I couldn’t have heard an audio version if I’d wanted to)
  5. Proving that the DVD I was about to play was indeed what I thought it was, and not something unsuitable for my daughter to watch (I really like horror films).
  6. Giving a student the right bag (some students really like a prank, I dread to think what’d happen if they swapped computers).
  7. Showing a student how to solve a complicated maths problem (I can’t do it all in my head!)
  8. Checking to see if a student learned his lines for the school play (he had them on paper! Quaint, eh?)
  9. Dishing out the right worksheets to a class of partially-sighted students (who all use large print writing you can’t touch)
  10. Helping a student correctly set up a piece of technical equipment by referring to the instructions (I’m either too old or too wise not to look at them these days)

The majority of these things would have been impractical or impossible using technology alone, and yet I wouldn’t have been able to read the newspaper without the technology sending that information to the Braille display. Far from completely moving away from Braille, we need to re-evaluate how we use it. I do think it’s time that we stopped giving postmen hernias and borrowing hundreds of volumes of Braille from the library, but why turn the Braille off when we can use Braille Display or Notetaker technology to read eBooks, just like sighted people. Technology and Braille should work together, not separately. There are some things like Braille Music, fiction and labels, that some people will always want to read in Braille. Technology can be used to make producing and accessing these things much more convenient, environmentally friendly and better for everyone’s spine at the same time.

So, the next time someone asks you if technology is replacing Braille, tell them that if it is, it’s only because we’re letting it. Tell them that technology and Braille can work together to give Braille readers quicker, cheaper, more flexible access to resources they’ve not even dreamed of having, if only they are aware of the fact. Tell them that technology moves forward, gets smaller, gets lighter, and it is about time we started seeing the benefits of that as Braille users as well!

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