[Nfbmo] Listening to Braille???

Ruby Polk r.polk1 at sbcglobal.net
Mon Jan 4 21:07:53 UTC 2010


I hope that you are not endorsing this Article because it is very Negative.


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "fred olver" <goodfolks at charter.net>
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Sent: Monday, January 04, 2010 1:52 PM
Subject: [Nfbmo] Listening to Braille???

> Listening to Braille
> New York Times
> January 3, 2010
> httpccwwwddnytimesddcom/blebjaj/jastjc/magazinest03Brl-tddhtml
>  AT 4 O'CLOCK each morning, Laura J.  Sloate begins her
> daily reading.  She calls a phone service that reads
> newspapers aloud in a synthetic voice, and she listens
> to The Wall Street Journal at 300 words a minute, which
> is nearly twice the average pace of speech.  Later, an
> assistant reads The Financial Times to her while she
> uses her computer's text-to-speech system to play The
> Economist aloud.  She devotes one ear to the paper and
> the other to the magazine.  The managing director of a
> Wall Street investment management firm, Sloate has been
> blind since age 6, and although she reads constantly,
> poring over the news and the economic reports for
> several hours every morning, she does not use Braille.
> "Knowledge goes from my ears to my brain, not from my
> finger to my brain," she says.  As a child she learned
> how the letters of the alphabet sounded, not how they
> appeared or felt on the page.  She doesn't think of a
> comma in terms of its written form but rather as "a stop
> on the way before continuing." This, she says, is the
> future of reading for the blind.  "Literacy evolves," she
> told me.  "When Braille was invented, in the 19th
> century, we had nothing else.  We didn't even have radio.
> At that time, blindness was a disability.  Now it's just
> a minor, minor impairment."
>  A few decades ago, commentators predicted that the
> electronic age would create a postliterate generation as
> new forms of media eclipsed the written word.  Marshall
> McLuhan claimed that Western culture would return to the
> "tribal and oral pattern." But the decline of written
> language has become a reality for only the blind.
> Although Sloate does regret not spending more time
> learning to spell in her youth -- she writes by dictation
> - she says she thinks that using Braille would have only
> isolated her from her sighted peers.  "It's an arcane
> means of communication, which for the most part should
> be abolished," she told me.  "It's just not needed
> today."
>  Braille books are expensive and cumbersome, requiring
> reams of thick, oversize paper.  The National Braille
> Press, an 83-year-old publishing house in Boston,
> printed the Harry Potter series on its Heidelberg
> cylinder; the final product was 56 volumes, each nearly
> a foot tall.  Because a single textbook can cost more
> than $1,000 and there's a shortage of Braille teachers
> in public schools, visually impaired students often read
> using MP3 players, audiobooks and computer-screen-
> reading software.
>  A report released last year by the National Federation
> of the Blind, an advocacy group with 50,000 members,
> said that less than 10 percent of the 1.3 million
> legally blind Americans read Braille.  Whereas roughly
> half of all blind children learned Braille in the 1950's,
> today that number is as low as 1 in 10, according to the
> report.  The figures are controversial because there is
> debate about when a child with residual vision has "too
> much sight" for Braille and because the causes of
> blindness have changed over the decades -- in recent
> years more blind children have multiple disabilities,
> because of premature births.  It is clear, though, that
> Braille literacy has been waning for some time, even
> among the most intellectually capable, and the report
> has inspired a fervent movement to change the way blind
> people read.  "What we're finding are students who are
> very smart, very verbally able -- and illiterate," Jim
> Marks, a board member for the past five years of the
> Association on Higher Education and Disability, told me.
> "We stopped teaching our nation's blind children how to
> read and write.  We put a tape player, then a computer,
> on their desks.  Now their writing is phonetic and
> butchered.  They never got to learn the beauty and shape
> and structure of language."
>  For much of the past century, blind children attended
> residential institutions where they learned to read by
> touching the words.  Today, visually impaired children
> can be well versed in literature without knowing how to
> read; computer-screen-reading software will even break
> down each word and read the individual letters aloud.
> Literacy has become much harder to define, even for
> educators.
>  "If all you have in the world is what you hear people
> say, then your mind is limited," Darrell Shandrow, who
> runs a blog called Blind Access Journal, told me.  "You
> need written symbols to organize your mind.  If you can't
> feel or see the word, what does it mean? The substance
> is gone." Like many Braille readers, Shandrow says that
> new computers, which form a single line of Braille cells
> at a time, will revive the code of bumps, but these
> devices are still extremely costly and not yet widely
> used.  Shandrow views the decline in Braille literacy as
> a sign of regression, not progress: "This is like going
> back to the 1400's, before Gutenberg's printing press
> came on the scene," he said.  "Only the scholars and
> monks knew how to read and write.  And then there were
> the illiterate masses, the peasants."
>  UNTIL THE 19;TH CENTURY, blind people were confined to an
> oral culture.  Some tried to read letters carved in wood
> or wax, formed by wire or outlined in felt with pins.
> Dissatisfied with such makeshift methods, Louis Braille,
> a student at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in
> Paris, began studying a cipher language of bumps, called
> night writing, developed by a French Army officer so
> soldiers could send messages in the dark.  Braille
> modified the code so that it could be read more
> efficiently -- each letter or punctuation symbol is
> represented by a pattern of one to six dots on a matrix
> of three rows and two columns -- and added abbreviations
> for commonly used words like "knowledge," "people" and
> "Lord." Endowed with a reliable method of written
> communication for the first time in history, blind
> people had a significant rise in social status, and
> Louis Braille was embraced as a kind of liberator and
> spiritual savior.  With his "godlike courage," Helen
> Keller wrote, Braille built a "firm stairway for
> millions of sense-crippled human beings to climb from
> hopeless darkness to the Mind Eternal."
>  At the time, blindness was viewed not just as the
> absence of sight but also as a condition that created a
> separate kind of species, more innocent and malleable,
> not fully formed.  Some scholars said that blind people
> spoke a different sort of language, disconnected from
> visual experience.  In his 1933 book, "The Blind in
> School and Society," the psychologist Thomas Cutsforth,
> who lost his sight at age 11, warned that students who
> were too rapidly assimilated into the sighted world
> would become lost in "verbal unreality." At some
> residential schools, teachers avoided words that
> referenced color or light because, they said, students
> might stretch the meanings beyond sense.  These theories
> have since been discredited, and studies have shown that
> blind children as young as 4 understand the difference
> in meaning between words like "look," "touch" and "see."
> And yet Cutsforth was not entirely misguided in his
>>gument that sensory deprivation restructures the mind.
> In the 1990's, a series of brain-imaging studies revealed
> that the visual cortices of the blind are not rendered
> useless, as previously assumed.  When test subjects swept
> their fingers over a line of Braille, they showed
> intense activation in the parts of the brain that
> typically process visual input.
>  These imaging studies have been cited by some educators
> as proof that Braille is essential for blind children's
> cognitive development, as the visual cortex takes more
> than 20 percent of the brain.  Given the brain's
> plasticity, it is difficult to make the argument that
> one kind of reading -- whether the information is
> absorbed by ear, finger or retina -- is inherently better
> than another, at least with regard to cognitive
> function.  The architecture of the brain is not fixed,
> and without images to process, the visual cortex can
> reorganize for new functions.  A 2003 study in Nature
> Neuroscience found that blind subjects consistently
> surpassed sighted ones on tests of verbal memory, and
> their superior performance was caused, the authors
> suggested, by the extra processing that took place in
> the visual regions of their brains.
>  Learning to read is so entwined in the normal course of
> child development that it is easy to assume that our
> brains are naturally wired for print literacy.  But
> humans have been reading for fewer than 6,000 years (and
> literacy has been widespread for no more than a century
> and a half).  The activity of reading itself alters the
> anatomy of the brain.  In a report released in 2009 in
> the journal Nature, the neuroscientist Manuel Carreiras
> studies illiterate former guerrillas in Colombia who,
> after years of combat, had abandoned their weapons, left
> the jungle and rejoined civilization.  Carreiras compares
> 20 adults who had recently completed a literacy program
> with 22 people who had not yet begun it.  In M.R.I.  scans
> of their brains, the newly literate subjects showed more
> gray matter in their angular gyri, an area crucial for
> language processing, and more white matter in part of
> the corpus callosum, which links the two hemispheres.
> Deficiencies in these regions were previously observed
> in dyslexics, and the study suggests that those brain
> patterns weren't the cause of their illiteracy, as had
> been hypothesized, but a result.
>  There is no doubt that literacy changes brain circuitry,
> but how this reorganization affects our capacity for
> language is still a matter of debate.  In moving from
> written to spoken language, the greatest consequences
> for blind people may not be cognitive but cultural -- a
> loss much harder to avoid.  In one of the few studies of
> blind people's prose, Doug Brent, a professor of
> communication at the University of Calgary, and his
> wife, Diana Brent, a teacher of visually impaired
> students, analyzed stories by students who didn't use
> Braille but rather composed on a regular keyboard and
> edited by listening to their words played aloud.  One 16-
> year-old wrote a fictional story about a character named
> Mark who had "sleep bombs":
>  He looked in the house windo that was his da windo his
> dad was walking around with a mask on he took it off he
> opend the windo and fell on his bed sleeping mark took
> two bombs and tosed them in the windo the popt his dad
> lept up but before he could grab the mask it explodedhe
> fell down asleep.
>  In describing this story and others like it, the Brents
> invoked the literary scholar Walter Ong, who argued that
> members of literate societies think differently than
> members of oral societies.  The act of writing, Ong said
> - the ability to revisit your ideas and, in the process,
> refine them -- transformed the shape of thought.  The
> Brents characterized the writing of many audio-only
> readers as disorganized, "as if all of their ideas are
> crammed into a container, shaken and thrown randomly
> onto a sheet of paper like dice onto a table." The
> beginnings and endings of sentences seem arbitrary, one
> thought emerging in the midst of another with a kind of
> breathless energy.  The authors concluded, "It just
> doesn't seem to reflect the qualities of organized
> sequence and complex thought that we value in a literate
> society."
>  OUR DEFINITION of a literate society inevitably shifts
> as our tools for reading and writing evolve, but the
> brief history of literacy for blind people makes the
> prospect of change particularly fraught.  Since the
> 1820's, when Louis Braille invented his writing system -
> so that blind people would no longer be "despised or
> patronized by condescending sighted people," as he put
> it -- there has always been, among blind people, a
> political and even moral dimension to learning to read.
> Braille is viewed by many as a mark of independence, a
> sign that blind people have moved away from an oral
> culture seen as primitive and isolating.  In recent
> years, however, this narrative has been complicated.
> Schoolchildren in developed countries, like the U.S.  and
> Britain, are now thought to have lower Braille literacy
> than those in developing ones, like Indonesia and
> Botswana, where there are few alternatives to Braille.
> Tim Connell, the managing director of an assistive-
> technology company in Australia, told me that he has
> heard this described as "one of the advantages of being
> poor."
>  Braille readers do not deny that new reading technology
> has been transformative, but Braille looms so large in
> the mythology of blindness that it has assumed a kind of
> talismanic status.  Those who have residual vision and
> still try to read print -- very slowly or by holding the
> page an inch or two from their faces -- are generally
> frowned upon by the National Federation of the Blind,
> which fashions itself as the leader of a civil rights
> movement for the blind.  Its president, Marc Maurer, a
> voracious reader, compares Louis Braille to Abraham
> Lincoln.  At the annual convention for the federation,
> held at a Detroit Marriott last July, I heard the mantra
> "listening is not literacy" repeated everywhere, from
> panels on the Braille crisis to conversations among
> middle-school girls.  Horror stories circulating around
> the convention featured children who don't know what a
> paragraph is or why we capitalize letters or that
> "happily ever after" is made up of three separate words.
>  Declaring your own illiteracy seemed to be a rite of
> passage.  A vice president of the federation, Fredric
> Schroeder, served as commissioner of the Rehabilitation
> Services Administration under President Clinton and
> relies primarily on audio technologies.  He was openly
> repentant about his lack of reading skills.  "I am now
> over 50 years old, and it wasn't until two months ago
> that I realized that `dissent1' to disagree, is
> different than `descent1' to lower something," he told
> me.  "I'm functionally illiterate.  People say, `Oh, no,
> you're n.' Yes, I am.  I'm sorry about it, but I'm not
> embarrassed to admit it."
>  While people like Laura Sloate or the governor of New
> York, David A.  Paterson, who also reads by listening,
> may be able to achieve without the help of Braille,
> their success requires accommodations that many cannot
> afford.  Like Sloate, Paterson dictates his memos, and
> his staff members select pertinent newspaper articles
> for him and read them aloud on his voice mail every
> morning.  (He calls himself "overassimilated" and told me
> that as a child he was "mainstreamed so much that I
> psychologically got the message that I'm not really
> supposed to be blind.") Among people with fewer
> resources, Braille-readers tend to form the blind elite,
> in part because it is more plausible for a blind person
> to find work doing intellectual rather than manual
> labor.
>  A 1996 study showed that of a sample of visually
> impaired adults, those who learned Braille as children
> were more than twice as likely to be employed as those
> who had not.  At the convention this statistic was
> frequently cited with pride, so much so that those who
> didn't know Braille were sometimes made to feel like
> outsiders.  "There is definitely a sense of peer pressure
> from the older guard," James Brown, a 35-year-old who
> reads using text-to-speech software, told me.  "If we
> could live in our own little Braille world, then that'd
> be perfect," he added.  "But we live in a visual world."
>  When deaf people began getting cochlear implants in the
> late 1980's, many in the deaf community felt betrayed.
> The new technology pushed people to think of the
> disability in a new way -- as an identity and a culture.
> Technology has changed the nature of many disabilities,
> lifting the burdens but also complicating people's sense
> of what is physically natural, because bodies can so
> often be tweaked until "fixed." Arielle Silverman, a
> graduate student at the convention who has been blind
> since birth, told me that if she had the choice to have
> vision, she was not sure she would take it.  Recently she
> purchased a pocket-size reading machine that takes
> photographs of text and then reads the words aloud, and
> she said she thought of vision like that, as "just
> another piece of technology."
>  The modern history of blind people is in many ways a
> history of reading, with the scope of the disability -
> the extent to which you are viewed as ignorant or
> civilized, helpless or independent -- determined largely
> by your ability to access the printed word.  For 150
> years, Braille books were designed to function as much
> as possible like print books.  But now the computer has
> essentially done away with the limits of form, because
> information, once it has been digitized, can be conveyed
> through sound or touch.  For sighted people, the
> transition from print to digital text has been
> relatively subtle, but for many blind people the shift
> to computerized speech is an unwelcome and uncharted
> experiment.  In grappling with what has been lost,
> several federation members recited to me various takes
> on the classic expression Scripta manent, verba volant:
> What is written remains, what is spoken vanishes into
> air.
>  Rachel Aviv is a Rosalynn Carter fellow for mental-
> health journalism with the Carter Center and writes
> frequently on education for The Times.
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