One hundred and seventy five years after the first book was published in braille, millions of people who are blind or have low vision continue to read, write, and communicate through the six dot system.
In fact, braille is used throughout the world by people who read a variety of languages. To promote braille literacy and recognize its inventor, Louis Braille, January is designated Braille Literacy Month in honor of his birthday on the 4th.
"People rely on their literacy skills for almost everything they do from reading a book to sending an email to taking money out of the ATM," said Carl R. Augusto, president and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). "For a person who is blind or visually impaired, knowing braille is a basic literacy skill the same way reading print is for a sighted person."
In 1999, AFB established its National Literacy Center to focus on promoting literacy and to eliminate obstacles that discourage people from mastering braille. For example, some believe that learning braille isn't as necessary today because of the popular use of technologies such as audio books and screen readers. But listening to a book is not the same as knowing how to read it.
There is also a shortage of braille transcribers in the U.S. resulting in blind and visually impaired schoolchildren frequently receiving their textbooks late and sometimes not at all. Coupled with the nationwide shortage of teachers trained in braille instruction, this situation means that many people who are blind or visually impaired lack the encouragement and training they need to become literate.
To address these issues, AFB has developed innovative programs and initiatives:
AFB created the Braille Bug web site (www.afb.org/BrailleBug/) to teach sighted children about braille and to encourage literacy among all children. The fully accessible website offers everything from learning games to a reading club to descriptions of assistive technology used by people to read braille. An online museum about Helen Keller offers a wealth of information about Keller's amazing life, from archival photos to video clips and famous quotes.
In partnership with Verizon Reads, AFB developed the National Campaign for Literacy, Textbooks, Transcribers and Technology. The Campaign is a public awareness and advocacy program that promotes the new career of braille textbook transcriber at the federal and state levels, and raises general awareness of the need of blind and low-vision schoolchildren to have timely access to textbooks and learning materials.
To ensure that all children who are blind or have low vision receive the education they deserve, AFB is advocating for revisions to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). AFB is requesting that IDEA include language strong enough to ensure materials, such as textbooks, are available to blind or low-vision students at the same time as their sighted peers.