WBU-NAC (Junior Group) Fine Work
Braille in the 21st Century
U.S.A Josh Andrews (25, Male)
A thrill of excitement rushed through me as I opened the box containing part of my new Braille Bible. The prospect of being able to touch the text of the most sacred book of all to me as a Christian was as exciting as the hope of traveling to the new land of America was for the immigrants of old. In considering the situations of our immigrant ancestors, I have come to realize that embossed Braille is vital to the future of Braille. While Braille displays are breaking down many barriers, for those who live in third world countries, embossed or hand produced Braille is the only option.
The digital age has brought revolutionary access to millions of books through electronic forms of Braille, audio, and text. However, these formats present challenges. Since Braille displays can usually present only one line of text at a time, it is difficult to depict textual formatting details on such devices. Furthermore, for those with total vision loss, digital text must be read aloud by screen readers which do not speak many text attributes beyond punctuation automatically. Most screen readers provide ways of determining this information, however the method of doing so could greatly slow down the reading process. Still another challenge presents itself when dealing with audio materials.
The most widely available form of recorded literature is commercial audio books. These recordings frequently emphasize dramatic features of books, while providing no information related to their format, font, or markings beyond chapters and parts. Because the sheets of paper used to produce brailled books are larger, many details such as indentation can be depicted with ease. This allows the reader of Braille to gain a basic idea of what the book would look like when read in print. Most importantly, the visually impaired can learn by example how to correctly format their own writing.
One of the most essential skills in the writing process is formatting a document properly. While Braille displays have dramatically increased the availability of Braille, their limitations do not allow for the depiction of advanced formatting details. Therefore, without the continued production of embossed Braille books in addition to digital editions, teaching writing to blind students will become more difficult. By reading Braille, students, (and the author of this essay,) can improve their spelling skills, and become aware of what a well-constructed proper sentence looks like. For many in the international community, the elimination of embossed Braille would mean the end of literacy.
Blind individuals who live in third world nations face a harsh world in which most of the advantages we enjoy in the United States and elsewhere are nonexistent. Braille displays, computers, and even electricity are unavailable for many reasons. For them, access to embossed Braille materials is their only method of learning and accessing the outside world. Thus, if these options become obsolete, the visually impaired third world will lose its glimmer of literary light. They would be deprived of their international voice and could not help to build a brighter future for all.
One of the largest obstacles Braille must overcome is its expense. When I investigated the option of purchasing a Braille Bible, I was astonished to learn that the price could easily reach $600 for a hard bound, well produced version. The likely reason for the price is the expense of purchasing and maintaining Braille embossers, and the paper they need. I have been able to obtain Braille books only through the National Library Service’s loaning program as a result. When I sought to purchase an embosser for my personal use, I required the assistance of a charitable organization to provide funding. In order for Braille to have a future, its price must be reduced.
If measures are not taken to reduce the price of Braille, its international rate of abandonment will rise. With a reduction of the price of embossers and paper, more third world nations will be able to afford a Braille solution for their visually impaired citizens. Furthermore, a reduction in the price of Braille displays will allow low income individuals around the world to experience the vast benefits of modern technology.
While I have greatly emphasized the use of embossed Braille, I do not wish to infer that Braille in any other format should be abandoned. For Braille to enjoy a vibrant future, I believe all methods of accessibility must be fully explored and enhanced. Due to the monetary barriers regarding embossed Braille mentioned previously, digital Braille has allowed me to access more content in a timely manner. However, the benefits of embossed Braille are diverse enough to render it valuable well in to the future. With the aid of technological advances, Braille’s future will brighten the future of the blind.
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