January 4th each year is gloriously celebrated as World Braille Day. It marks the birthday of Louis Braille (1809-1852), the French inventor of the reading and writing code for the blind. In Louis Braille’s time, the code was only used at the Parisian school for the blind where he studied and later taught. Today, there are Braille codes for virtually every written language in the world, so that blind people everywhere can become literate and acquire the opportunities that literacy brings.
Guerra Access Technology Training LLC (GATT) is proud to celebrate the wonderful tool of Braille. For nearly 45 years, I have used braille and still do each day. At the same time, it is sobering to remember that the number of blind children being taught this crucial reading and writing tool in the United States is at an all-time low. The most recent available statistics from the American Printing House for the Blind suggest that only about 8 percent of blind K-12 students in the United States are Braille readers.
Considering the Braille literacy crisis, it is important that we continue to make the case for Braille. Braille is the only method that allows blind people both to read and write independently. While other tools, such as recorded or text-to-speech audio, are useful to blind people, only Braille provides us with true literacy.
A correlation has been demonstrated between knowing how to read and write Braille and better educational and employment outcomes. Yet because of the false perceptions that Braille is hard to learn or that modern technologies can replace it, Braille instruction continues to decline. The irony is that technology, such as Braille notetakers and displays that can connect to computers and smartphones, has made Braille more available than ever before.
Every day, thousands of blind people use Braille for everything from shopping lists to labels for canned goods, from reading novels to solving math and scientific equations, from learning a piece of music to composing one. The increasing availability of Braille signs makes it easier for blind people to get around hotels, office buildings, government facilities, university campuses, and more. Braille is as flexible as print, can be learned in roughly the same amount of time, and can be read just as fluidly.
There is much that needs to be done to combat the decline of Braille literacy, but one way that each of us can help is to create awareness of how Braille makes it possible for blind people to transform our dreams into reality. On World Braille Day, let’s commit ourselves to showing more blind people and more members of the sighted public how this versatile code helps us live the lives we want.