Are Smartphones Making Braille Obsolete?

Pic courtesy of NPR.

Did you know that only 1 in 10 blind Americans can read Braille? With the rise of smartphones, it’s easier than ever for individuals with visual impairments to navigate the world with the help of text recognition technology. Services like iTunes provide easily downloadable audio books. This led NPR to ask, is there still a place for Braille in modern day America? Julie Deden, director of the Colorado Center for the Blind, says yes. “People will let it go and they’ll say: ‘Well, you know, they’re not really illiterate. They just don’t really use Braille or print very much, but that’s just because they’re blind. I think that it’s kind of an out, and technically they really are mostly illiterate.”

There are good reasons to learn Braille–text recognition software is still imperfect and listening to a robotic voice can be less than pleasant. However, I feel the need to question Deden’s assertion that blind individuals who do not learn Braille qualify as “illiterate.” It strikes me as analogous to saying a person with a hearing impairment doesn’t appreciate music, which is to say it frames a disability in terms of deficiency. Since blind Americans are unable to access text through their eyes, some choose to do so through their fingertips and many more prefer to do so through their ears. It’s troubling to see some school districts attempting to circumvent rules that would require them to teach Braille to students with visual impairments, but it’s also troubling to see leaders in the blind community casually referring to 90% of their constituency as “illiterate.”

That’s just this blogger’s opinion, though. Listen to the story below and make your own judgement.

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