Reflections of Braille: How This Revolutionary Dot System Continues to Evolve with the Technology of Electronic Braille
By Audrey Schading, Academic/Communication Skills Instructor, Lighthouse Guild
“More pegs! More pegs, please!” I chorused along with two other first-graders. It was my very first day of school, and we were diligently beginning to learn the alphabet. My mind raced with anticipation as I nearly bounced out of my seat, waiting to put more pegs into the specially-designed pegboard so that I could continue making my four rows of A’s and B’s.
Across from me, four second-graders were happily taking turns, reading a story out loud from a Braille book.
I kept wondering how they were doing that. I was awestruck by the possibility that soon I would also be able to read. My mind continued to race, but I listened attentively, as my fingers flew across the board, creating more A’s and B’s. Then my mind returned to pondering how they were actually reading stories. I wanted to know when I would touch the Braille dots. Most importantly, I wanted to know when I would start to actually read.
On the second day, I learned the letters C through H. It wasn’t long before I was showing off my skills at home to my family, all the way through W! However, I was eager to know X, Y, Z, so my Dad patiently explained the dot patterns for those letters. Needless to say, my teacher was pleasantly surprised when I came to school, already knowing the last three letters.
As each glorious new school day blended into the next, the dot patterns soon cascaded into my heart and mind and forever became a real, integral part of my ever-expanding knowledge base.
Learning Braille not only bestowed the gifts of reading and writing to me but also inspired me to instill this passion for literacy in others. At that moment, I knew that I wanted to teach Braille.
Soon, just as a piece of music is formed, note-by-note, the letters formed sounds, words, and stories—and I was reading with flying fingers! I couldn’t read enough. When given a library book for the summer, I finished it in two days.
Reading out loud has always been a great source of joy to me, either to my students or to my grandchildren. Likewise, I have also still enjoyed others reading aloud, especially when it’s my own students using the Braille code.
And Braille has withstood the test of time. In fact, Dr. Alan Morse, JD, Ph.D., President and CEO of Lighthouse Guild, said of the six-dot system, “Its durability and functionality is amazing.”
However, many people still don’t realize just how technology has transformed Braille.
More than dots on paper
Much as print has evolved, Braille has also progressed. In fact, we are in a Braille revolution. “This is an exciting time for Braille readers,” said Claire Maxwell, senior product developer for Braille at the Royal National Institute of Blind People, where a new, less expensive, nine-line electronic reader/notetaker is currently being developed.
One of my recent adult students, age 36, wrote a beautiful essay for a TASC practice test on how important learning Braille has been to her. “I started learning Braille three years ago. Now I can read any Braille material I want. I have an electronic Braille display which connects to my phone,” the student said. “I also started learning Hebrew Braille a year ago; I now know how to read all Jewish prayers. Reading Braille changed my life completely.”
It’s true. No longer must we carry huge, massive volumes with us. As the electronic braille products continue to drop in price (prices now range from $500-$5,000), those of us who are strong braille advocates will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that more folks know about the technology advancements, assisting others to understand its versatility and usefulness.
Louis Braille, the inventor of the six-dot system, essentially liberated people who are blind from the prison of illiteracy. Much has been written, hailing his achievements, but for those of us who use the system, we honor him as a hero.
As Braille continues to grow and flourish with technology, I think it’s fair to say Louis himself would be both proud and awestruck over how far his code has come. Braille continues to deliver and drive education for people who are blind—whether it’s math, science or music in whatever language we want to read. Those six dots and their ambassadors are doing wonders!
Audrey Schading has shared her expertise by instructing adults and children who are blind or have low vision on various forms of Braille, including Braille as it relates to today’s technology. Audrey has taught English as a Second Language, as well as General Educational Development (GED) subjects in English and Spanish. A lifelong educator, she began her career teaching French and Spanish.
Audrey is a member of the Westchester Council of the Blind, Greater New York Council of the Blind and Guide Dog Users of New York. She has also participated in professional delegations of people with and without disabilities, sponsored by Mobility International USA (MIUSA), in Japan and Bahrain.
Audrey and her guide dog Keith enjoy traveling and working in Manhattan.