In Part 1 of this article, we explored some of the accessible formats that students with visual impairments can learn to read in school. We also discussed how eye specialists and teachers of the visually impaired (TVIs) may sometimes decide that Braille should not be one of these formats. In this article, we consider why some specialists may think that students should not learn Braille. We also suggest that more Braille instruction in schools could help more students achieve greater success as adults.
Students with Visual Impairments
Why Specialists may not Choose Braille
Eye doctors may choose not to recommend Braille because they cannot read Braille and they think it is harder to learn than print. Similarly, TVIs may think that Braille is hard because they learned as adults and do not use Braille in their every-day lives. However, young children learn Braille as easily as their fully sighted peers learn print. Some children learn both writing systems at the same time. Others learn Braille after they have learned print.
Alternatively, specialists may think that students who can read some print should use it as long as they can. Specialists may hope that reading print will help students with visual impairments feel more like their fully sighted classmates. However, students who will need Braille one day will need to learn to accept their difference from sighted classmates. If they learn Braille at younger ages, they may accept their differences more easily than they would in later grades.
Audio and Computer Technology
Moreover, teachers and doctors may believe that Braille is becoming obsolete. Instead, they may recommend that children with all degrees of visual impairment learn using audio and computer technology. These methods are useful and students can easily learn them at the same time as Braille. However, if students always use them instead of Braille, they may have trouble in school. For instance, they may have trouble hearing a teacher if they are trying to find a textbook page by listening. Likewise, they may have trouble hearing the teacher and taking notes with a screen reader. In contrast, students can easily keep up when they can hear the teacher and feel their book or notes.
Similarly, students who always use audio or computers rely on their technology more than sighted print readers. When this technology breaks down, these students have no other way to learn. In contrast, students who read Braille can continue learning when technology breaks down. When students read Braille, they read letter-by-letter on a page or screen the way fully sighted people read print. Teachers do not tell fully sighted students that they should listen instead of reading. Therefore, audio by itself is not equal to print, but Braille is.
Braille is easier to produce now than ever before. People can print documents in Braille using translation software and Braille printers. In addition, students with visual impairments can use Braille displays to read information on computer or phone screens. These students will grow up to use Braille at work. A recent report from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) indicates that blind people who read Braille have more success finding jobs than blind people who do not read Braille. Blind adults can also move around more independently if they can read Braille on signs, room numbers, and elevator buttons. In short, blind people often have a better quality of life if they learn Braille in school.
An education standard could implement many solutions for the shortage of Braille instruction in Ontario schools. A standard could mandate that all TVIs have enough Braille training to confidently teach their students. With training, sighted TVIs can read Braille as easily as TVIs who are blind. Government could partner with other sectors to develop more education and training programs for TVIs. Campaigns could increase public awareness about the need for teachers of Braille, so that more people would follow this career path. More Braille instruction in schools will ensure that each student learns in the ways best for them.