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Introduction

The pace of technological change is faster than we can keep up with. In some ways, technology levels the playing field, but in other ways, it introduces new accessibility challenges. A strong foundation of braille literacy today lies in the understanding of how to use these technologies.

As a language script, Braille matters today for the same reasons as any other. It provides people with visual impairments with a vital means of communication, education, and community building.

Still, some argue that Braille is going the way of the dinosaur as assistive technologies such as screen readers allow people to read standard scripts. Despite this, there are several things about Braille that have made it appealing for millions of people for nearly two centuries – it’s crucial to understand why this is, and why these strengths are still relevant today.

The Original Strengths of Braille

Braille is a vital and personal form of communication. Due to its worldwide prominence and recognition around the world, Braille has been the primary means of communicating for visually impaired people to read and write for almost two centuries.

Dr. Ruby Ryles, a blindness researcher at Louisiana Tech University, USA, have noted a strong correlation between the ability to read Braille and a higher educational level, a higher likelihood of employment, and a higher income level, especially when learnt at a young age.

Recent modifications and advances in Braille production methods, as well as a growing recognition of Braille’s importance, have made Braille text easier and more affordable to produce, encouraging its proliferation.

It’s grown to be useful at work as a fast and efficient way to make notes in meetings and to review long documents. It’s not uncommon to find public signs with Braille texts to help blind people navigate, especially in developed countries.

Within the home, being able to label clothing, food packaging, and domestic appliances around the home with Braille helps blind or visually impaired people live independently. Items such as washing machines, microwave ovens, can be made accessible to a blind person by having raised or clear print markings added to the controls to indicate the different settings or uses of each knob or dial.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of Braille, however, has been the personal and private autonomy that the script allows its users in expressing themselves, their needs and wants.

Braille is not simply a means of writing and reading – Braille is to many visually impaired and blind people, an inseparable component of their live’s and identity.

Dr. Fredric Schroeder, Past President of the World Blind Union and research professor with San Diego State University working in the area of Vocational Rehabilitation, found in his work with visually impaired persons that Braille literacy “seems to represent competence, independence, and equality, so the mastery and use of Braille played a central role in the development of their self-identities as persons who are capable, competent, independent, and equal.”

The promotion of Braille usage also shows the visually impaired people that sighted society is concerned about their rights and needs. Presenting information and focusing on the widespread usage of Braille helps the community feel as though their values as a group are honored.

Braille, like other languages, is unique to the individual. Having information in Braille gives greater privacy and dignity in daily life.

When reading an email on a refreshable Braille display, it feels more personal. It’s personal when one grabs the correct credit card because it’s labeled, or when one rummages through the refrigerator looking for something to prepare for that all-important dinner and then finding it because of Braille labels.

When a letter is written in Braille, it feels more personal. Reading a book is a very personal experience. Reading on one’s own is a wonderful joy that should not be denied to anyone, including children.

Literacy fosters children’s learning capacities, inventiveness, and creative talents, as well as their ability to speak in the language they would use in everyday situations.

Braille also assists persons with visual impairments in’reading’ items that we may not think of as texts, such as music codes and notations, and Nemeth for scientists and mathematicians.

Communication in the Technological Age

The fast development and distribution of new communication technology has resulted in significant changes in the way we use language. The pace of communication has increased, and these technologies are typically more easier to use. In many respects, communication has ‘gone paperless,’ with information in the form of text and images shown on our phones and computer displays. Spelling and grammar may also be regulated by the gadgets we use, thanks to programs like autocorrect and predictive text.

However, sighted students are still taught the alphabet, grammar, writing, and other basic language skills in school. It turns out that no matter how much technology evolves, the principles of learning and utilizing language remain constant. While language scripts may be used digitally, their analogue beginnings are still important to understand.

Communicating with Braille Today

Braille is no exception; it is personal, regardless of the technology used to access it. Some blind persons argue that improvements in assistive technology, such as audio books, voice-recognition software, and computer screen-readers, have rendered Braille obsolete, citing the bulkiness of many Braille volumes. However, such technology has yet to match literacy’s distinct characteristics and is yet to be replicated by such technology.

Braille provides readers and writers with a direct link to language by allowing them to “see” words with their fingertips. Because of the independence that Braille provides, a visually impaired person does not need to rely on technology to get through their daily routines. When technology fails, it is costly and time-consuming to fix. It is crucial to consider the situation we leave persons in when they lack access to Braille abilities in this setting. Television and the internet have not rendered linguistic script for the sighted obsolete, nor have they eliminated the necessity for a seeing youngster to learn to read; why should Braille be any different?

Technology has the potential to enhance Braille; after all, it expands the forms of connection with the environment, allowing visually impaired persons to communicate with sighted people. Because of technological advancements, Braille is now more widely available and accessible than it was previously.

Software tools, Braille displays, and embossers can, for example, translate any document into Braille quickly and accurately. Thousands of Braille books are available from Internet-based services. BrailleType, a single-touch text-entry system for touch screen devices allows the blind user to enter text as if they were writing Braille using the traditional 6-dot matrix code. Both Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android OS has a built-in Braille keyboard. Braille can continue to move off the page, to electronic displays, portable devices that can hold many more pages of script than a book, and can support touch with haptics and audio.

In addition to digital technology, there are various hardware-based ‘low tech’ methods for using Braille. Older Braille writing and embossing processes have become less expensive and easier to replicate. The use of 3D printing decreases the cost of producing Braille texts. Non-digital technology, such as the Perkins Brailler and refreshable Braille displays, have enabled many more individuals to write and read in Braille. A number of devices now support multi-line Braille reading. With the decreased prices of these advances in Braille, the script will become even more accessible to a larger number of users.

Learning (with) Braille Today

When it comes to learning Braille, the personal aspect of Braille is a double-edged sword. The direct attention kids require to achieve correctness and fluency in Braille is frequently difficult to deliver with a limited number of skilled teachers. There is a scarcity of skilled teachers who can teach Braille. There aren’t enough tools to make learning Braille as easy as learning print. School design and other components of learning settings are not always accessible to those with visual impairments.

So far, the instructions for teaching Braille have relied on human-to-human interaction in classroom settings. However, technology now allows teachers to adapt new courses that expand on this foundation. This is true for both visually impaired and sighted learners, but in very different ways. While sighted students have previously had access to a variety of such educational technology, current Braille learning methods are available to modernization and updating in novel ways.

A variety of learning aids, techniques, and technology are rapidly gaining favor in the study of Braille. They may be as basic as LEGO’s Braille Bricks, which create a letter, number, or math sign in Braille and are printed with tactile symbols to help youngsters with visual impairments learn to read Braille. Technology has the potential to empower the individual learner, allowing visually impaired youngsters to benefit from self-learning, multimodal, interactive, and gamified learning resources.

This represents a paradigm change in Braille learning: educational tools may facilitate self-learning while also reaping the benefits of a classroom setting. Because such technology is very portable, more materials may be utilized in the classroom with less resources, eliminating reliance on difficult-to-handle amounts of Braille texts by putting all kinds of Braille learning, i.e., reading, writing, and typing, onto a single platform. It is a multidimensional kind of learning that aids in overcoming the drawbacks of traditional techniques of teaching and learning.

However, the full potential of these projects can only be realized in collaboration with instructors. The teacher’s job may evolve; they no longer need to micromanage the student, but can instead lead them on their learning path. These interactive routes of learning dynamically enable the student to steer their own learning by utilizing multimodal technologies that mix audibility and tactility. These instructors do not need to be retrained in the new technology since they are intuitive enough to focus on building successful pedagogies and overall classroom management.

Students are increasingly able to access digital and online learning materials via the use of assistive technology, but it is critical to select accessible resources. For example, when visuals are used in courses, they can be Braille-based or tactile; class texts must be provided in Braille, and so on. Although audibility may not be viable in every context, when paired with Braille’s tactility, it may be used to develop multimodal interactive mechanisms and tools that can be made dynamic for the situation at hand using modern technology. The Braille user may likewise make such judgments thanks to new technology. Technology has the ability to use Braille to enable visually impaired people to access information.

These efforts toward access equity are especially significant in inclusive classrooms where Braille texts may be included into classroom instruction utilizing a combination of electronic and paper copies. Such resources will allow visually impaired students to participate in class with their sighted colleagues at all levels of education (without excessive extra apparatus that may seem to set them apart).

It is advantageous for pupils to have hard copies in situations when they may need to read fast, as they are accustomed to the tactility of Braille. The ability to perceive headers and subheadings in hard-copy Braille also aids in content learning. Refreshable Braille displays and digital Braille technology, on the other hand, goes a long way in notetaking.

Thinkerbell Labs’ flagship product in Braille self-learning, Annie, has shown to be a successful combination of Braille basics and technology. Annie familiarizes young learners with the ways technology supports Braille usage by providing lessons in reading, writing, and typing in vernacular and English language Braille using conventional instruments like the Brailler and slate on a single device.

The Annie Smart Class, the classroom settings they built to balance the learner-teacher connection, have gone a long way toward generating an interesting and successful learning environment. Teachers may monitor student learning and performance and adjust their pedagogies as needed, focused on certain sections of study or specific pupils. An Annie isn’t technologically resource-intensive, but it makes effective use of what technology can accomplish.

Braille and its Future

Braille isn’t just for reading text on a paper or on a screen. There are an increasing number of technology choices that employ the tactile form of Braille to transmit a wide range of information. The haptic chair, for example, may indicate to a blind person whether the person opposite them is smiling or frowning, and it could instantaneously transform non-Braille text into haptic sensations that duplicate Braille bumps. Blind Maps is a navigation gadget that connects to a user’s iPhone and provides tactile feedback on the route via a Braille-like interface.

Braille is a touchstone for the visually impaired community’s interactions with their world, on their terms, from the smart classroom (with technology integrated into the classroom and allowing the learner to participate on their own terms) to the smart city (Braille street signs through digital interfaces and Braille smart cards for public transportation).

The Continuing Role of Braille Today (with Tech!)

It’s clear that technology has swiftly integrated into many aspects of a visually impaired person’s life, from schooling to ordinary communication. It is also evident that blind individuals require the possibilities that literacy gives in order to excel in school, jobs, and life. Braille is the principal form of literacy for visually impaired people in many developing countries, where Braille assistive technology is not yet ubiquitous, inexpensive, or even available.

Braille may also be used to supplement marketable abilities with technology, employing it where it is accessible to instill current economic and productive skills. For example, individuals may learn cutting-edge digital and creative skills, which may help some find work while also generating cash from product sales. People with visual impairments may be able to participate in Braille manufacturing using technology such as 3D printing, which can be a sustainable source of income. Individuals and communities can benefit from employment for those with vision impairments.

Promoting Braille literacy is a means to improve the life of the visually impaired in all aspects. From instructional tools like Annie to communication technology such as digital Braille, our technological era is not just for the sighted.

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