Are you dotty about today?

Claire using her Smart Beetle braille display.


So today is International Braille day. A day to celebrate the birthday of Louis Braille, the person who I thank for inventing the system I am using right now to write this very post, along with anything else I write. Six dots, just six dots, not sure about you, but I always have and always will be amazed at how just six little dots have got me to where I am today.

So what’s all the fuss about?

Claire reading a page of braille

As a young person who up until recently was in fulltime education and braille was fundamental to me, I have always had a love of braille, right from day 1. I began to use braille at a very young age, and once I started, I never stopped. Although I use speech, there is nothing worse than sitting all day listening to a synthetic voice read everything and mispronounce plenty of things along the way. The majority of people think that braille is too old, it has no future, it is too hard and pointless. It is very sad to see that so many children now are taught to just listen to a screen reader from an early age. To me, braille is key to having better literacy for life, therefore increasing employability skills.

My use of braille

On a daily basis I use braille right from getting out of bed. I start my day by reading a few pages of a good book, that is using either a braille display connected to my iPhone with the Kindle app, or a hard copy braille book. I find myself using speech with my Iphone extremely rarely, more often than not speech is turned off, screen curtain is on, and I can work away with my braille display, while listening to some music or having a conversation with someone. Doing so with speech and no braille is pretty much impossible in my opinion, it is very hard to not get a sensory overload while listening to speech read your emails, while someone is talking to you as well. When I do use speech, I input text using braille screen input, rather than using the onscreen keyboard, because I find myself being more productive that way, which is important to me.

When I use my computer I have my braille display connected, I use both the Mac operating system and Windows, and very much like the phone, speech is mostly off. With my computer I even input and emulate computers commands with a braille display, rather than using the keyboard, although I can touch type, I find it miles faster to type in contracted braille as opposed to touch typing each individual letter. There is nothing worse than being on a phone call and needing to note down something you are told, only to find yourself having to ask the person to repeat what they have said multiple times because of trying to note down the information while your screen reader is talking at you and at the same time you are listening to the call. Braille is silient, very much like print, it is a way of mchltitasking very much like a sighted person would do exactly that. Proofreading and editing content is much easier with braille, and let’s not even mention the ability to spot spelling mistakes. A screen reader does not always identify spelling errors correctly unless it is configured to do so. You can easily misspell a word and it would be pronounced correctly, so you’d have a hard time knowing that you spelt the word wrong anyway!

I still have a Perkins brailler and a hand frame. My brailler comes out more often than it stays in its wooden case, because it goes way beyond the occasional braille Christmas or birthday card for someone. I use a labelling tape adapter with Dymo type to make braille labels to help me be independent. Before today I have labelled buttons on appliances, hard to identifn products, and anything else which I generally need to identify quickly.

Is braille dying?

With the release of the Orbit reader 20 in September 2018 to the UK, it is fair to say that finally there is an affordable braille solution for people. For years braille displays, even with 14 cells, have cost nearly double the price of an Orbit reader 20. Yes, the Orbit does have its pros and cons, with the noisy sound when the cells refresh being just one of the few things which made me send mine back, it has certainly brought the availibility and access to braille to a whole new level; both for those who use braille already, but also those who want to learn braille. This is only the start and as a young person I am extremely excited about the future of braille and keeping it alive. Braille is not dying out, but it is up to us to embrace it and keep it alive. Despite there being a higher percentage of people who avoid braille, those of us who use it should encourage its use, and I for one do not feel ashamed one little bit for being a full-time braille user, and as I introduce new braille kit into my life I will update this post to spread the word.

So am I dotty about today? I certainly am, but tell me in the comments, what do you think?

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  1. Proficient Braille users are more likely to be successful both at school and professional life. I commend you for being an advocate of braille. With computer technology and screen reading software some say braille is now obsolete, but noone is saying the same for print.

    1. Thank you, glad to hear your thoughts. You have a very good point indeed, I guess the reason why nobody would say that print is obsolete is because it is a standard thing that every sighted person learns and people are not given a choice, unlike us VI people who have a choice of whether to use speech, or braille, or speech and braille, or large print in some cases, and some people might even use a bit of everything if they have some sight.

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