For Braille Week, Masuma Ali has written a blog about how she uses braille in her day to day life and work, and how it works in conjunction with newer accessible technologies.
“5 to 11 October 2020 is Braille week in the United Kingdom. Braille was invented by Louis Braille in 1809. At the tender age of 15, Louis Braille invented the system of reading and writing with six raised dots, better known to us as braille. It is used by blind people across the world, however, it is estimated that less than 8% of blind or partially sighted people in the UK are braille users.
This decline is a consequence of numerous technological advances available to blind and partially sighted people today. This has allowed people with visual impairments to access information in new and engaging ways; including reading with audiobooks, communicating using mobile tablets and computers with speech output, and using voice activated devices such as Amazon Alexa. This is something I can relate to: while I am a braille user, I couldn’t imagine taking seven volumes of Harry Potter on holiday, when I could have them all downloaded onto my phone instead!
Technology certainly has its place – such as in the above example – yet I have found that braille is still useful when it comes to a variety of areas. For example, braille is increasingly being used on food packaging, medication, and on buttons in lifts. This proves that even having the basic ability to read braille provides a further level of independence for blind and partially sighted people. Naturally, I also appreciate that not all blind people are able to learn braille for a variety of reasons, such as limited sensitivity in their fingers.
I believe braille and technology work well together, and it is a partnership that aids me in my professional and personal life. Professionally, the ease of preparing a presentation on the laptop using a screen reader, to then be able to swiftly transfer it to my braille note taker to deliver is a blessing. I just can’t seem to manage the art of presenting with speech babbling in my ear, so using braille is a great solution! Additionally, when socialising, I have found that braille doesn’t always need to be large and unportable, you can carry a standard deck of playing cards with you wherever you go, and playing cards is a great way to spend time with people.
Personally, I think that there is room for both technology and braille to exist in parallel, even in today’s technological world. Technology has made braille a lot more compact with the vast array of refreshable braille display options on the market, so it need not be cumbersome and unportable.”