ABU(Senior group) Excellent Work
Right to read, accessible books, Braille or audio
Samson Perera Sri Lanka (69, male )
I was born with sight only to lose it at the age of three years due to malnutrition. So my parents admitted me to the School for the Deaf and Blind at Ragama where I was introduced to Braille. From an early age, I enjoyed reading and there was not a single book in the library that did not pass through my hands. Each time I open a book to read, I thank Louis Braille for creating the Braille System because if not for Braille, I would not have become such a voracious reader.
Things have changed a lot since my childhood when there were only books embossed in Braille. On one hand, instead of carrying huge books, we are now able to use a refreshable Braille display which is far less cumbersome, to accomplish the same thing. On the other hand, advances in technology have brought to our lives the convenience of audio books. I always enjoy a good human narrated audio book irrespective of the device I use to listen to it. Then there are DAISY books which offer both text and audio for those of us who have a DAISY playback device. There are also ebooks and normal print books which are scanned by OCR programmes. However, since Sri Lanka is a developing country, we are still stuck with conventional methods like bulky Braille books of many volumes and audio books recorded on cassette or CD.
Among all these options of accessible books for the vision impaired, I personally prefer the Braille format. I love to take out books off the shelves and explore them before reading them. I may be a tad bias towards Braille because I was introduced to Braille at a very early age and am competent in reading Braille. Reading Braille gives me the opportunity to relish every single word. Nothing like reading at my own pace and in a manner that what is written goes to my head. I do not wish to brag but I rarely misspell words. This may be because I observe how words are spelt while reading. I also take note of the punctuation and how text is formatted on the page. My Braille reading speed, I believe is equal to an average person’s speed of reading print and I am able to enjoy a book the same way a sighted person enjoys a book. Nevertheless, I must say that not every vision impaired person is an efficient Braille reader and Braille books may not be the ideal format for everyone.
My preference for Braille books over audio books does not keep me away from reading audio books. Audio books are portable and I prefer to listen to them when I travel. I have many audio books saved on my mobile phone. How much I enjoy a an audio book depends on the narrator. Some books are read by hopeless narrators and unless I very badly need to have access to the content of that book, I would rather not listen to it. “I believe that you render a version of the story, when you read a book, in a way that is unique and special to each person who reads it.” Says Carlton Cuse. Therefore, I prefer to read to myself. Although they do not give me the same feeling of reading a Braille book, they are nevertheless useful as there are more audio books than Braille books since they are more economical to produce. Moreover, for those who lose their sight later in life, audio books may be the only way to continue reading. It is a better option than having nothing to read.
Braille book or audio book, in my opinion is not the question. The right to read of vision impaired persons can only be secured if more and more accessible books are made available at the same time as the normal print version. We all love to read the latest best-seller and it should be available in any format we prefer to have. I may love the Braille format while another might prefer the audio format. But we all have the equal right to read. It is not our fault that we have impaired vision. The National Intellectual Property Organisation of Sri Lanka is paving the way to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty these days and I am eagerly awaiting the day when I can step into a bookshop and purchase a book in my preferred format off the shelf.