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Decline in Braille use threatens literacy

BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL Modified: January 10, 2010 at 12:00 am •  Published: January 10, 2010

A decline in Braille reading among young blind people will lead to a generation of functionally illiterate blind adults, advocates say.

Only about 10 percent of blind people read Braille, though it often is an indicator of professional success, according to the National Federation of the Blind. More than 80 percent of blind people who are employed know Braille.

Although the blind cannot read printed words, they still must be literate to be successful, said Cathy Holden, rehabilitation director for NewView Oklahoma, formerly the Oklahoma League for the Blind.

"If you don’t know Braille, you’re not going to be employable in the visual world,” Holden said. "You might get through school. You might muddle your way through. But you’re not going to get a job. You’re not going to go to college.”

The use of Braille has been on the decline since the advent of text-to-speech technology. As that technology improves, more tools are available to the blind to interpret printed words.

While the technology is good, it doesn’t replace the need for Braille, said Patricia Cox, a teacher for the visually impaired.

"You don’t hear capitalization,” Cox said. "You don’t hear a punctuation mark, sentence structure and grammar.”

Cox’s son, Koby, is a sophomore at Tulsa’s Memorial High School. Koby had eyesight for the first four months of his life.


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