[nfbwatlk] FW: [Wcb-l] Old-school Braille needs image update

Mike Freeman k7uij at panix.com
Thu Oct 3 14:51:24 UTC 2013

-----Original Message-----
From: Wcb-l [mailto:wcb-l-bounces at wcbinfo.org] On Behalf Of Carl Jarvis
Sent: Thursday, October 03, 2013 7:24 AM
To: wcb
Subject: [Wcb-l] Old-school Braille needs image update

I don't recall seeing this article before.
Carl Jarvis

    Old-school Braille needs image update

The Columbus Dispatch, June 30, 2013.

Who was Helen Keller?

We know the answer, and yet, the answer has changed with time.

Thursday marked the 133rd anniversary of her birth.  While most of us are
familiar with the story of the miracle that occurred when a little girl who
was both deaf and blind suddenly grasped the power of language, Helen
Keller's image has transformed dramatically over the decades.

Her only access to classroom lectures and textbooks was the relentless
interpreting of her teacher, spelling into Helen's hand.  She graduated with
honors and became internationally known as an author, speaker and
humanitarian, but her image was once a bit removed from "regular' people.

She was a phenomenon, yes, but society also viewed her as a kind of freak of
nature, a paragon, untouched by the more common human needs.

Her image has changed - and for the better.  Today, we know that she was a
complex, multi-dimensional woman.  Not asexual or unaware of earthly
matters, but rather a feminist, a socialist, an advocate for disability
rights - and a flesh-and-blood woman whose one true romance was thwarted by
her "handlers" just short of her elopement.

You might say that, with time and more knowledge of her humanness, Helen
Keller has gone beyond legendary and remarkable; she has become cool.

This same transformation has occurred with our perceptions of other
disability trappings.

American Sign Language, ASL, once perceived as that odd business of a couple
of people frantically, silently waving their hands around in public, is now
recognized by all immediately as just another way of talking.  Mothers teach
it to their babies.  Colleges and universities offer it for credit.  Most
people think that to know at least a few words and phrases in ASL is
decidedly, yes, cool.

At the first ever "Braille Summit" last week, a conference organized by the
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (a
division of the Library of Congress) and that same Perkins School where
Helen Keller was a student, 100 of the most passionate advocates for Braille
literacy from throughout the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom and France
gathered to talk about the future of literacy for people who can't read
conventional print.

The problem is of crisis proportions.

Although we recently celebrated the 200 th} birthday of the blind Frenchman
who invented the tactile system of reading and writing for blind people,
only 10 percent of blind people currently use it.  Schools often assign a
low, if any, priority in lieu of teaching blind kids to use their ears to
listen to recorded texts and computerized voices.  Adults losing sight
consider it a badge of failure, so they learn it only if they have the good
fortune to find a teacher who knows its value.

Without Braille, a person who cannot effectively read or write print is
illiterate.  Although employment rates for blind adults are deplorably low
(about 30 percent), 85 percent of those who are employed use Braille on the

"So how do we fix it?" was the question posed to those gathered at the
Watertown, Mass., event.

A solid list of solutions was developed, a list for the Library of Congress
staff and others to contemplate and try to implement.

But one of the leading suggestions was this:  Braille needs a better
marketing campaign.  It needs to be perceived as "cool."

For those of us fortunate enough to use it, of course it's cool.  Reading
and writing and language are recognized universally as keys to information,
knowledge, success.  Braille is just another literacy medium, a system of
dots rather than lines and squiggles.

You see it on elevator panels and restroom doors.  Why not look it up in the
encyclopedia and puzzle out those numbers and letters? Teach it to your
children and grandchildren.  It can be a fun tool for writing secret

That's how it began, after all.  Nineteenth century French military
developed "night writing" as a way for soldiers to relay messages after
dark.  One of them shared it with a school for the blind, young Louis
Braille got his hands on it and turned it into a system that could convey to
the fingertips any text ever written.

Every word I've ever written was read by me in Braille.  It's not quirky or
complicated or obsolete.  It's just literacy - and that is 100 percent cool.

Like Helen Keller and American Sign Language before it, Braille needs to be
seen in a more-positive light; it needs an image makeover.

Deborah Kendrick is a Cincinnati writer and advocate for people with

dkkendrick at earthlink.net


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