The Economist of 1 February 2014 reports that fewer people are learning Braille: in the 1950s about half of America’s blind children learned Braille, while now only 10% do. Apparently learning Braille facilitates learning grammar and spelling. One reason for the decline in the percentage of blind people learning Braille is that since we learned that pure oxygen in incubators was damaging premature babies’ sight, fewer babies are born blind. People who become blind in adulthood are less likely to learn Braille — we all know that learning a language becomes harder as we age — though Braille is of course not a language, it’s a writing system. I had not realized that most Braille transcriptions are in Grade 2 Braille which features abbreviations to “shorten” the document. This is explained at the American Foundation for the Blind’s website. The Economist says that the final Harry Potter volume would be one foot thick: presumably in Grade 2 Braille.

Now we have widely available audio books and computers which convert written word to speech, and many blind children attend non-specialist schools where Braille is not used. National Braille Press has this video promoting the virtues of Braille learning and featuring a Braille computer keyboard.

The Economist says that Disney is developing touch-screens which “use electrical impulses to trick the fingers into feeling bumps and ridges. Vibrations create friction; the level of resistance matches the on-screen pattern.” hapticsI suspect that this picture from the NBP website should be viewed as a metaphor, not a representation of what really happens, though I suppose it might be an illustration of an alternative system.

Going even further, according to the The Daily Mail, researchers at Bar-Ilan University’s Faculty of Engineering are working on a contact lensarticle-2552940-1B3BFC4400000578-619_634x313 which will decode images from a camera and transmit the information to the brain, thus enabling the wearer to see. Just what this will do for the wearer’s spelling is not reported.

See earlier post on The Print Disabled.

Here is a link to How We Read, a UK site, subtitled “A Sensory History of Books for the Blind”.

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