By Robert Jaquiss,
Sales Engineer, American Thermoform
Imagine you are the parent of a first grader. You send your daughter to school with every expectation that she will start to read and write. On a daily basis, your daughter returns home happily telling all about what she learned at school and you think all is well. Your daughter asks if she can visit her grandmother and you suggest she write a letter asking if she can schedule a visit. Soon after, she brings you a letter:
I wood like two come sea yew. It wuz fun makeing cookys with yew. Daddy cut down a you tree. We can gring Grandpa sum would for his shop. Uncle joe sawl a deere last weak. Pleez right soon.
Such a letter from a child beginning first grade would bring laughter from the reader. Children do mix homonyms, and English with its assortment of spelling rules, takes time to learn. You then find out to your great astonishment, that the school has provided your daughter recorded books instead of printed books. It is no wonder your daughter can’t write, yet the teacher is proud of her because she has a big vocabulary. If sighted children were really given recorded books to “read” from, there would be an outcry. No competent teacher or school administrator would even consider such a foolish idea. Unfortunately, this is the situation for children who are blind. Sadly, children who are blind are often not taught braille.
Since 1966, the Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) organization has worked to provide children with books . The question must be asked; if sighted children who are expected to read print, why are blind children not expected to learn to read using braille? When blind children are educated, it is often the case that only ten percent of them learn to read using braille (The Braille Literacy Crisis) .
Historically, when children attended schools for the blind, fifty percent of them learned to read and write using braille. Children who attended these schools had access to teachers who knew, and used braille routinely. The selection of available braille books is much smaller than the selection of print books available to students who are sighted. Braille books take up more space. For example, a braille Revised Standard Version bible required eighteen volumes and took approximately four feet of shelf space. The 1959 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia required one hundred forty-five large volumes and occupied approximately forty-three feet of shelf space. Anecdotally; it is my understanding that I was one of the very few blind students who had a braille encyclopedia of my own. Braille books are certainly larger than print books, however braille gives us the ability to be literate and free.
Dr. Ruby Ryles, a former director of the orientation and mobility master’s program at the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University, conducted a research study showing that those persons who were blind and who could read braille were far more likely to be employed than those who read print (Ryles 1998) .
In 2009, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) solicited letters from the blindness community, where one hundred of these collected letters were assembled into a book entitled; Let Freedom Ring Braille Letters to President Barack Obama . On February 1, 2010, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, received the book on behalf of President Obama. The one hundred letters in Let Freedom Ring describe the importance of braille in the lives of those who are blind.
Years ago, when fifty percent of children who were blind were taught braille, braille books were either produced with embossed plates and printing presses, or transcribed by hand using mechanical braillers. In the twenty-first century, we have braille translation software such as Duxbury and high speed, high quality braille embossers like those manufactured by Braillo. It is much easier to produce braille materials now than it was sixty years ago. How ironic that when braille was more difficult to produce, a higher percentage of children who were blind were taught to read and write with braille. Now that braille materials are easier to produce a much lower percentage of children who are blind are taught to read and write using braille. We need to make a change. We need to teach braille to our blind children.
The following references provide more in depth information about this subject.
 Reading Is Fundamental http://www.rif.org/
 The Braille Literacy Crisis in America
Facing the Truth, Reversing the Trend, Empowering the Blind
A Report to the Nation by the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute
March 26, 2009
Braille Monitor Vol. 52, No. 5 May 2009 ISSN 0006-8829
 The Impact of Braille Reading Skills
Ruby Ryles Ph.D
Braille Monitor, National Federation of the Blind
Vol. 41, No. 2 February 1998 ISSN 0006-8829
 Let Freedom Ring
Braille Letters to President Barack Obama
Published by the National Federation of the Blind.