[blindkid] FW: Fewer than 10 Percent of Blind Americans Read Braille

Eric Calhoun eric at pmpmail.com
Tue Apr 7 10:18:58 UTC 2009

Carol, what can kids do to see this trend reverse itself?  This is a
blindness-related question that I hope the Blindkid parents may want to
talk about.


Original Message: 
From: "bkmabma at yahoo.com" <bkmabma at yahoo.com>
To: Eric Calhoun <eric at pmpmail.com>
Subject: Fewer than 10 Percent of Blind Americans Read Braille
Sun, 29 Mar 2009 18:32:00 -0400

Fewer Than 10 Percent Of Blind Americans Read Braille

BALTIMORE (AP) -- Jordan Gilmer has a degenerative condition that
eventually will leave him completely blind. But as a child, his teachers
did not
emphasize Braille, the system of reading in which a series of raised dots
signify letters of the alphabet.

Instead, they insisted he use what little vision he had to read print. By
the third grade, he was falling behind in his schoolwork.

''They gave him Braille instruction, but they didn't tell us how to get
Braille books, and they didn't want him using it during the day,'' said
Jordan's mother, Carrie Gilmer of Minneapolis. Teachers said Braille would
be ''a thing he uses way off in the far distant future, and don't worry
about it.''

That experience is common: Fewer than 10 percent of the 1.3 million
legally blind people in the United States read Braille, and just 10
percent of
blind children are learning it, according to a report to be released
by the National Federation of the Blind.

By comparison, at the height of its use in the 1950s, more than half the
nation's blind children were learning Braille. Today Braille is considered
by many to be too difficult, too outdated, a last resort.

Instead, teachers ask students to rely on audio texts, voice-recognition
software or other technology. And teachers who know Braille often must
shuttle between schools, resulting in haphazard instruction, the report

"You can find good teachers of the blind in America, but you can't find
good programs,'' said Marc Maurer, the group's president. "There is not a
commitment to this population that is at all significant almost

Using technology as a substitute for Braille leaves blind people
the federation said, citing studies that show blind people who know
are more likely to earn advanced degrees, find good jobs and live

"It's really sad that so many kids are being shortchanged," said Debby
Brackett of Stuart, Fla., who pressured schools to provide capable Braille
teachers for her 12-year-old daughter, Winona.

One study found that 44 percent of participants who grew up reading
Braille were unemployed, compared with 77 percent for those who relied on
Overall, blind adults face 70 percent unemployment.

The federation's report pulled together existing research on Braille
literacy, and its authors acknowledge that not enough research has been
done. The 10 percent figure comes from federal statistics gathered by the
American Printing House for the Blind, a company that develops products
for the visually impaired.

The federation also did some original research, including a survey of 500
people that found the ability to read Braille correlated with higher
levels of education, a higher likelihood of employment and higher income.

The report coincides with the 200th birthday of Louis Braille, the
Frenchman who invented the Braille code as a teenager. Resistance to his
system was
immediate; at one point, the director of Braille's school burned the
he and his classmates had transcribed. The school did not want its blind
students becoming too independent; it made money by selling crafts they

The system caught on, but began declining in the 1960s along with the
widespread integration of blind children into public schools. It has
continued with the advent of technology that some believe makes Braille

"Back in about 1970 or so, I was heading to college, and somebody said
to me, 'Now that you've got the tape recorder, everything will be all
In the early 1980s, somebody else said, 'Now that you've got a talking
computer, everything will be all right,' " said Marc Maurer, president of
the federation.

"They were both wrong. And the current technology isn't going to make
everything all right unless I know how to put my hands on a page that has
words on it and read them."

Audio books are no substitute, said Carlton Walker, an attorney and the
mother of a legally blind girl from McConnellsburg, Pa. Walker once met a
blind teenager who had only listened to audio books; the teen was shocked
to discover that "Once upon a time'' was four separate words.

Walker also had to lobby teachers to provide Braille for her 8-year-old
daughter, Anna, instead of just large-print books.

"At 3 years old, Anna could compete with very large letters. When you
getolder, you can't compete," Walker said. She once asked a teacher,
"What are you going to do when she's reading Dickens?' She said, 'Well,
just go to audio then.'

''If that were good enough for everybody, why do we spend millions of
dollars teaching people to read?''

Gilmer, now an 18-year-old aspiring lawyer, worked on his Braille in a
summer program when he was in middle school and can now read 125 words a
minute, up from his previously rate, an excruciatingly slow 20 words a

''Just try it,'' Carrie Gilmer said. ''Go get a paragraph, get a
and try to read 20 words a minute. Try and read that slow and see how
frustrating it is.''

Fluent Braille readers can read 200 words a minute or more, the

Carrie Gilmer is president of a parents' group within the federation for
blind. She believes poor or haphazard instruction is largely responsible
the decline in Braille literacy, but she says sometimes teachers push
Braille only to meet resistance from parents.

''They're afraid of their child looking blind, not fitting in,'' Gilmer

The report outlines ambitious goals for reversing the trend, including
lobbying all 50 states to require teachers of blind children to be
in Braille instruction by 2015. But its immediate goal is to simply make
people aware that there's no substitute for Braille. It's not just a tool
help people function -- it can bring joy, Maurer said.

''The concept of reading Braille for fun is a thing that lots of people
don't know,'' Maurer said. ''And yet I do this every day. I love the
beautiful, orderly lines of words that convey a different idea that can
stimulate me or make me excited or sad. ... This is what we're trying to

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