EBU (Senior Group) Excellent Work
What Advantages and disadvantages does braille have over print : discuss-Things we can do
UK Lyn Street (58, Female)

I was born with a visual impairment but as a small child it mattered to me little. We lived on a farm in Somerset and my parents gave me a precious gift - the freedom to play, explore and learn.By the age of five I was confident, active and had learnt the print alphabet from Smarty tops.
School was something of a shock - I had to sit still and do as I was told. On my first day I was given a braillette board - a wooden board with holes in and a pile of nails. The idea was to place the nails to make Braille letters. It seemed rather pointless and uninteresting to me - surely there were fields to explore and bikes to ride!Incidentally, I dread to think what Health&Safety would make of the braillette board as a class-room activity today!Later I was given a Stainsby and learned to read “The cat sat on the mat”.Braille was, perhaps, my second precious gift.It has been an essential tool in my life ever since, allowing me to achieve my full potential, giving me hours of reading pleasure and generally making my life easier.
Of course there are challenges in life as a visually impaired person but there are also times to be light-hearted.To balance the disadvantages, there must, surely, be some advantages?
Over the years I have come up with two:
I am never driving so can always have a drink.
It is never me who has snaffled the boss’s pen.
But when it comes to the fun and interesting advantages of Braille over print, I can think of seven.
Let us start with the most obvious– the ability to read in the dark.I was reading on the train ecently and noticed that the lights had gone out. Soon afterwards we went through a tunnel and it was pitch black. The news-papers around me stopped rustling and everyone became quiet and still. It almost seemed that, without light, my fellow travellers were in suspended animation.I continued reading whilst smiling to myself.It was tempting to leap up and say “would you like me to read to you until the lights come back on?"
Staying on the subject of trains and other public places, we can read whatever we like, wherever we like.
So if I choose I can read “Winnie the Pooh" (aged 58), private correspondence or a raunchy novel with little or no possibility of anyone reading over my shoulder.I will confess that there have been times, when reading a slightly naughty magazine article or the like, that I have smiled to myself thinking “if only you knew what I am reading”.
We never have problems deciphering each other’s writing.
To an extent we each have our own style, depending on how we set things out and which of the changes to the Braille code we have incorporated into the Braille we produce.There are also little quirks such as my friend who has always confused the contraction for character with that for Christ.For many years, therefore, his Christmas card has wished me a “Happy Charactermas” instead of a "Happy Christmas".I would recognise it even if he forgot to put his name.
Now this one is somewhat technical, but stick with it.
We have a nifty way of remembering numbers and encoding passwords. In Braille, the letters a to j preceded by a numeral sign represent the numbers 1 to 9 and 0.So, for example, the number 10 is written as numeral sign aj.
Therefore if I need to remember a number such as 31754 I simply convert it into the word "caged".And if it doesn’t make a word I think up a sentence such as "Fred goes fishing every Friday afternoon" - 676561.This aide memoir works particularly well if the sentence is relevant to the person. In other words, if his name really is Fred or he does indeed enjoy fishing.
Conversely, it is easy to convert numbers into letters so that we can remember, or even write down passwords.There are lots of words which only use the letters a to j including ice, bead, badge, decide and, the longest I have come up with yet, cabbage.So my head is full of seemingly random words, sentences and numbers all of which mean something specific and important to me.One of my favourites is "be good, always buy cat food" - the telephone number for the cattery of course.
We can read whilst still looking towards/making eye contact with our audience or class.
In my experience this purely accidental bi-product of Braille reading has been the envy of sighted people on several occasions.A few years ago I was reading the part of the formidable Lady Bracknell (a character in Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest") and a fellow actor said how much he would like to be able to read whilst still using his eyes and face to act.Similarly during my career as a trainer, colleagues commented how useful they would find it to be able to consult notes without looking away from their students.
We can seem to be amazing!
I was somewhat mystified recently when out of the blue, a shop assistant commented on my “fantastic memory”.Then I realised how I had probably been fooling people for years.When shopping I walk on the left side of my assistant so that I can read my Braille list in my left pocket.It had never occurred to me that they would not realise I had a list, so my ability to tell them exactly what I need, more or less in the correct order, would seem almost super-human.I will confess that on that occasion I just smiled and chose to keep my little secret.
Lastly, Braillists are the only people who can truly say we have information “at our fingertips”.When used by others this is a metaphor, but for us it’s a fact – it’s the way we read!
So let us celebrate Braille and its people, past, present and future.Its ingenious inventor Louis Braille, everyone who is involved in its teaching and production and, of course, us - its readers. Braille remains an invaluable tool for our independence and enjoyment and, despite technological advances, is no less relevant today than it was 50 years ago.Long may it be produced, taught and prized!


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