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Is technology making braille obsolete?

4 years ago

1 expert and 1 parent have answered

Siobhan O'Neill writer
Siobhan O'Neill Freelance journo and mum of 2

Braille - the alphabet system of raised dots for the visually impaired - is more than 200 years old, and when invented by the young Louis Braille it revolutionised life for blind people who suddenly gained the independence to read books, music and newspapers for themselves. But now we have talking phones, speech recognition software and audio books, is Braille fast becoming obsolete?

The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) continues to promote the use and learning of Braille in the UK. They fund the transfer of books into Braille and hold training courses to help people learn it. The National Federation for the Blind (NFB) in the USA also promotes braille. But are their efforts increasingly in vain?

There are around two million visually impaired people in the UK. But current estimates say fewer than 1% of them can read Braille to some degree. In the USA, the NFB is campaigning to improve the number of blind children taught to read (currently around 90% do not know braille).

Despite that, in Britain at least, Braille has become increasingly common in everyday life. Sighted people may not have noticed, but thanks largely to the RNIB’s campaigning, more signs, telephones, bottles and buttons now include Braille messages. Some restaurants even stock Braille menus.

Meanwhile technology, whilst useful, is not without its drawbacks. For the visually impaired, an audiobook or newspaper will tell you the words, but not how they’re spelled, making writing – and therefore employment – problematic. And what happens when technology is unavailable and there’s no one to ask?

Self reliance is important, and being able to read is a valuable tool in anyone’s armoury. Somehow it seems a shame to see something so unique and useful die out. But is it just another old language becoming redundant over time? Technology on the other hand is increasingly ingenious. Have a look at this incredible tablet by Tactus that features a surface which morphs into shaped buttons for the keyboard function. Technology will undoubtedly find solutions for many of the issues faced by people with disabilities. Perhaps it’s as simple as evolution.

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Opinion 4 years ago
expert answer
Andy Powell expert
Andy Powell Internet Consultant Oldham, GB

Not yet, but maybe soon, holding a phone up to something you cant see is not a great user experience but Glass from Google may well change things be able to become a replacement for Braille by allowing the wearer to hear what the glasses are seeing.

Its early days at the moment but the hardware is making its way into the hands of developers and its only down to their imagination as what it will create.

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Opinion 4 years ago

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