Our Thoughts on Braille Literacy

This blog post is featuring our various opinions of Braille. We have all learned Braille at different times and in different ways. We have all learned, experienced, and used Braille in our lives in some form or another. We, The Blinkie Chicks, talk a little about Braille and how it has played a role in our lives. Also, we have some links to other people’s stories about how Braille has impacted their lives.

Ashley began learning Braille at the age of 6. When she was asked if she would have liked to have learned Braille earlier, she says: “Yes, I do wish I had the opportunity to learn Braille earlier. I think Braille is a necessary tool for blind and visually impaired children to have in their toolbox.”

When asked how and why Braille was important to her, Ashley said: “Braille is very important to me. My family had a difficult time getting the elementary school I attended to find someone to teach me Braille, and the school tried to force them to send me to The Governor Morehead School for the blind. My parents refused because they wanted to keep me at home. The school system had to find someone to teach me Braille.” Ashley further explains: “I have been able to see how much Braille has helped people in their daily lives. I know how much Braille has helped me, my friends, and the people I have taught.”

Ashley says that Braille was the way she learned to read and write. It was the way she had access to the materials the other students had access to. She learned how to spell and work math problems using Braille.
She received access to her text books through Braille, and by that she was able to efficiently learn the material she needed to pass her classes.
Ashley says that one of the suggestions that she could give to others who are learning Braille is: “Do not worry if you do not pick up Braille when you first try to learn it. Be patient with yourself, and with the person or persons who are trying to teach you. Braille is not easy to learn for some people, but you can learn it.” She says, “I love and enjoy Braille, and I hope others will as well.”

Jessica learned braille at age 11. She chose to learn it on her own. She was never asked to seriously learn it, because she is able to read print. Jessica says: “I guess they thought I didn’t need it.”
When she was asked if she would have liked to have learned Braille at an earlier age, she says: “I wish I had learned braille sooner, because it would have made reading much easier for me, and maybe I would’ve developed a love for reading at an early age.”

Jessica says that Braille is very important to her. She goes on to say: “In fact, I keep finding ways to use it, even though people keep trying to tell me I don’t need it. I do need it, because it is much more efficient for me to read something in braille vs. print. I guess people think I have too much vision for braille, but that thinking is flawed.” She also states: “Braille is extremely important, because reading it is the only real way for blind individuals to be literate. It assists with learning to spell, punctuation, and proper grammar usage. What would happen if print were to disappear? Braille should be taught and encouraged. A screen reader and audio books can never replace braille.”

Jessica says that Braille has helped her succeed in school. She explains: “Braille helped me succeed in school, because in middle and high school, I was able to take my notes in braille. When studying, I could actually concentrate on the material, instead of focusing my energy on reading the notes themselves.”

Daria learned Braille at the age of six. She was attending public school at that time. She wishes she would have learned Braille at an earlier age so that she would have been reading sooner.

She states that Braille has helped her have confidence in her reading abilities. “I love to read aloud.” She says: “I can be more independent because of it. For example, when I was in college, there was Braille beside the suite doors.” Daria continues by saying, “Braille is important to me because I am able to be independent, and I can be a more active reader because of it. Just being able to touch it with my hands is very therapeutic to me.”

When Daria was asked how Braille helped her in school, she said, “I mention reading a lot, but Braille was how I learned to read; I gathered information through reading Braille. Also, when learning Spanish, Braille helped me to advance. Studying Spanish was easier because I learned Braille.”
For the people who are learning Braille, Daria advises, “My suggestion would be to have patience with yourself when you begin learning Braille, and do not be afraid to ask questions about Braille you don’t yet understand, such as what certain contractions represent.”

Ania learned Braille at the age of three during the summer. Ania says, “I spent every weekday morning during that early summer going through the alphabet and forming words, in a parents directed blind organization.”

Ania does not wish she would have learned Braille sooner. She does think that learning Braille before primary school is vital.

When we asked Ania how and why Braille is important, she explains: “For me, books are a part of my life, as I say it, I eat books as much as food. Books have opened a door to a new world and new experiences. Braille is the way of getting there. When I put my fingertips over those dots, it’s as if I really had vision; those dots are my eyes.” Ania goes on to say, “Every kid should know how to read and write, how to spell and how to count, and every blind kid should know braille to do those things. No braille no good spelling, only audio, your touch is not as well developed as it can be. In fact, Braille is our eyes. We develop the hearing because we use it more but our touch shows us the forms of things, how the things really are.”
Ania says that in school, Braille was the way for her to be even with her peers. Ania says that she could do the same as her peers; in fact, she could do even better than them. Ania says that Braille was the way she did her math, how she calculated, and the way she has advanced in life. Ania says, “I would ask the sighted people, what are your eyes for you?”

Ania gives this advice to people who are just learning Braille: “Don’t give up. If they are kids who are early learners, I would tell them that it is the same as learning to read in print for sighted kids. If, on the other hand, the person learning Braille is older, I would tell him/her to have patience, and persevere. With Braille, like with other things in life, if you don’t give up and continue with a clear goal, you will always reach your objectives.”

Here are a few links about Braille that might interest you.

The first is a link to a post written about the importance of Braille. With the strong focus on electronic communication, many feel that Braille is no longer necessary. This blog post, which was the inspiration for this post, is a response to an article written on this subject, which explores Braille and what it means to those who use it.
The Importance of Braille Literacy: An Open Letter to the New York Times from Daniel Aronoff

The second is a great post about why Braille is still necessary, even if it can be inconvenient at times. Luckily, Braille displays are coming down in price, which means more people should have access to Braille than ever before.
Braille Is Not Dead (So Stop Trying To Kill It) | Where’s Your Dog?

We sincerely hope you have enjoyed this post. Thank you for reading!

Leave GMS Alone, Already!

Good afternoon! I wrote the following entry in collaboration with a good friend of mine, Kristin Miller, who also attended GMS. This entry has been adapted, with permission, for this blog. Feel free to read the original entry, as well as her other posts on Kristin’s blog. 🙂

For many years now, the fate of The Governor Morehead School for the Blind (GMS) has been unknown, due to financial concerns, a decline in the number of students, and the beauty and location of the campus. It’s prime real-estate, so people are constantly trying to find ways to shut down the school, or even to just snatch the land from those who rely on it. Not only does the GMS campus house the k-12 program, but there is also a pre-school, and a rehabilitation center. Division of Services for the Blind is also housed on the campus, making obtaining services much easier for students and those who attend the rehabilitation center. None of this seems to matter to those who wish to close the school, and it also doesn’t seem to matter that the campus is historic. Those who are involved, and are letting greed get the best of them, aught to be ashamed of themselves.

People will note that there has been a decline in the number of students at GMS, and they will note that more and more students prefer to stay in public school. However, what they’re not telling you is that students who meet the qualifications to attend GMS have been being turned away for many years. Combine this with the instability of the school, and the fact that most parents would rather have their children with them anyway, and you have a recipe for disaster. It’s about time blind students in North Carolina feel they have a reliable place to go if they aren’t receiving a decent education in public school, and for those who do attend not to have to worry whether or not their school will exist next year, after break, or even next month.

By law, schools are supposed to provide materials and resources for all students, regardless of whether or not they have a disability. Unfortunately, visually impaired students rarely receive a good education in public schools, due to lack of resources, and funding. In many cases, students are denied access to braille instruction, computer and mobility training, and access to printed materials. I have first-hand knowledge of this; I attended a public elementary school. I was lucky if I had the right books, and very few teachers seemed to care if I kept up with the class and understood the material. I wasn’t taught braille or mobility skills, but I still had to attend a school located on the other side of town to receive even minimal services. This is no way for a child to get an education.

I’m proud to say, I graduated from GMS knowing I received the education I deserved. Not only was I surrounded by students who were just like me, the teachers and other staff members were dedicated to providing the best education possible for all students. All of my teachers knew braille, which meant that I could learn and submit assignments in the way that worked for me. Every student had access to braille, large print materials, and accessible computers. Everyone was able to learn in the way that suited them. Not to mention, the school’s location allowed for valuable mobility training, which, as an independent woman, I rely on everyday.

People need to take a step back, and focus on the purpose of GMS, instead of how much value the land holds and other plans for the land. It’s already being put to a very good use, and I believe doing anything else with the land would be a disgrace. I’m thankful my parents sent me to GMS, because without the help of The staff at GMS, I wouldn’t have received the education I deserved. I wouldn’t be the independent person I am today, and life wouldn’t hold quite as much for me. I really hope the school is able to remain open, and to continue to serve the disabled students of NC. It truly would be a shame if such a good thing was shut down.

WIPO Treaty

Good afternoon, everyone! Today, we have another beautifully written blog post to share with you all. It is important to note that this post is about a time sensitive issue; you’re support is needed. At the end of this post, we’ve added links to articles where you may get more information about the treaty, and sites that provide opportunities for you to help. As always, thank you for reading! Enjoy Daria’s post below:

Ever since I was a child, reading has been something I loved to do. I loved being able to escape from the world I lived in, in favor of another world that was much more adventurous. (I once read forty-five books in one year while in the fourth grade). The older I got, the more reading served different purposes in my life. I was no longer reading solely for the purpose of escaping; I now read because of my eagerness to learn. For instance, when I read books like All Quiet on the Western Front, I learned what it was like for soldiers to serve their country.

While in college, I majored in English, and I read novels such as Franny and Zooey and Invisible Man. But also, I read about disability theory, and have applied that theory to papers I had to write. I write all this to convey that I would not have been able to read all of this material had they not been adapted to accessible formats.

Websites such as bookshare.org have over a hundred thousand books available in accessible formats for people who are blind and for people with print disabilities; magazines and newspapers are also available in alternative formats such as Daisy and digital Braille. The Treaty for the Blind makes this possible because it allows us to have access to materials in alternative formats, regardless of where they are. These materials are needed for an education, employment, and for inclusion in society. Eventually, blind people and people with print disabilities from all over the world will be able to have access to this information. (This is the international treaty’s goal).

However, private interests are trying to make changes to the treaty that could adversely affect our ability to get access to these books. One of the ways they want to make changes to this treaty is by altering its language. The phrase “If you can buy it, you can’t borrow it” could have a drastic affect on future access to books. This means that websites like Book Share may not be able to continue providing accessible materials for people who are blind or who have print disabilities in the US and other countries. Other libraries for the blind could also be affected. For me, this means not being able to just download a book when I wish to read, or have access to magazines that I enjoy perusing.

Though we may have access to some accessible materials, we do not have access to every book or every magazine. If alters to the Treaty for the Blind are made, this access could disappear. This will cause people who are blind to be further isolated from society because they will no longer have access to the materials that will allow them to have an education, nor will they have access to books that can provide a way of escape from their routines. I was fortunate to have that access all of my life, and I want me, and my fellow blind peers, to continue having that access. I also want those people who don’t yet have access to these books to finally be able to read a book or a magazine in a format that will suit them.

For more information about what private interests are trying to do to the treaty for the blind, here are some links to two articles. The first is an article that’s posted on The Huffington Post:
Poisoning the Treaty for the Blind

The second link is to an article on Wired Magazine:
Obama Stops Championing Treaty That Gives the Blind Better Access to E-Books

How you can help:
Sign the petition on Whitehouse.gov to support the treaty: Sign the Petition

Let your voice be heard by submitting a video about the WIPO Treaty to the NFB. WIPO Video Submission Instructions