I am so thankful for my fingertips. They allow me to read at night. They gravitate toward those little bumps (paper braille or electronic), flying along over the words beneath. They read the words in the books I love and write the dots, the cells that become the words I must express in my writing.
In 2020, while it was a tough year for many things, I did pretty well with writing and submitting. I was published in Oh Reader, a magazine all about reading I have an essay in and I wrote it about my love of braille.
I burnt one fingertip on a burner a few years ago and I immediately worried I would damage that finger, ruining the level of sensitivity I’ve developed over the years, since learning braille as a child.
Today I attended a Zoom event to celebrate Louis Braille on what would have been his 212th birthday. This event included a children’s braille story, a reader who was blind, reading a print/braille book called Harry’s Hiccups by Jean Little. Another reader handled the image descriptions.
Growing up, my mom didn’t wait to find the few print/braille children’s stories available somewhere. She went ahead and made her own, taking picture books and adding the lines of braille herself.
The books we had were braille, the words, but the pictures, it was up to the sighted parents or whatever to describe anything in the pictures that the story’s words didn’t already explain or point out.
That might be something most haven’t thought of. We didn’t think of it, when I was a kid or grown either, for years, but image descriptions for images (social media) is a big thing now and audio description on television and film and even live plays etc.
After today’s story time, there were panels with people from
National Network For Equitable Library Service
Braille Literacy Canada
Vision Impaired Resource Network
, and others.
They talked about what braille is, what it means in their lives, and how technology is teaming up with braille, not replacing it.
That part always gets me worked up. People ask if braille is still necessary because we have smart phones, tablets, screen readers, and audiobooks. Also, educators tell parents and children who have some vision left that they should stick to reading large print, that they don’t need to learn braille, but to me this is a lazy and a negligent thing to do. It is because disability has a stigma attached to it still, including things like braille in that.
It’s a human right to learn braille for all people who can’t see to read and write print. If they learn now, they have it if or when they might need it because even if a child is low vision now, that doesn’t mean they always will be. I had low vision and could read large print. I learned my print letters, how to write cursive, and read large print books. I also was taught braille. I owe my parents and my braille teacher and braille transcriber. They fought school boards and officials who wouldn’t have bothered with the time or the expense of hiring a teacher. I would suddenly lose more vision when I was twelve. It’s nearly all gone now and I’m so glad I know braille.
Braille is literacy, no matter how far technology has come. So is braille still relevant in 2021? I want that awful question to stop being asked, by anyone. Nobody would deny children the access to learning to read and write when we’re talking sighted children and print. Well, braille is my print and I see young children and the next generations coming along and technology isn’t the answer alone.
I wish braille were more common in society. It’s appearing on signs now, buttons in elevators, and yet I want braille/print books in the library, for all children to get accustomed to, instead of thinking some separate organization for the blind will handle it. I want to be included in my local library with everyone else. As a kid, I could see enough that I did feel included, loved going to the library, but now I am an adult and I don’t feel welcome in my library at all.
Of course, it’s pandemic times and libraries are often closed in lockdowns, but the only reason I was stepping foot in my town’s library before that was to attend a writing group I was in, where I had friends who I’d found who loved writing and stories like I do, but a meeting with the library CEO in 2019 was fruitless and frustrating because he should want to do what he could for a library patron.
Instead, I was told I had something, one option, and I should be happy with that. Other people get options, but we who are blind should be happy we have anything at all I guess he was saying.
As you can probably tell, I am emotional about all this and I can get worked up when I feel braille is portrayed as this daunting, scary, even unnecessary thing. It isn’t another language. It’s a code for writing and reading and it matters to many people around the world, just like sign language matters to many of those who are deaf.
Anyway, I could go on jotting about this for days, but I’ll just say that a group of people trying to all sing Happy Birthday to Louis together over Zoom at one time sounds silly and feels silly too, but that’s how much we care, what that man’s work over two-hundred years ago has meant to us.
I feel badly because I didn’t remember we’d had
one year ago.
Such a busy year. So much has happened since then and I am embarrassed that I didn’t think of it, as I really appreciate that Linda remembered. I’d written about braille for JusJoJan on this exact date a year ago too which is what started it all and led us here this year.
I’m so grateful for Linda’s support (for braille and in checking out and promoting the radio show/podcast I do to speak about things like braille, technology, and equal access).
And Happy Birthday Louis.