For Blind Northeast Florida Students, Braille Is Like Having Pen And Paper

Jan 29, 2016

Florida Students who are blind or have low vision met in Jacksonville Thursday for an annual Braille reading and writing competition.

For many purposes, Braille has been replaced by smartphone apps and other technologies.

But the Braille system, invented in 1821 by Louis Braille, is not dead yet.

Remember those spelling tests where the teacher called out the word and you wrote it down?  Blind children have spelling tests too when they’re learning Braille.

When the instructor called out the word "mirror" and used it in a sentence, student fingers launched with vigor into gray, metal Braille typewriters at the Jacksonville Public Library.

This was one of four regional “Braille Challenges” in Florida.  About 45 blind children were there, competing to see who’s the best at reading, writing and comprehending Braille.

Eighteen-year-old Brittany Grady has been learning Braille for eight years in Duval County schools. Because it’s mandated by the federal disability law, the district has 11 Braille teachers instructing 15 students this year. 

Brittany says learning the arrangement of raised dots was hard. “I got letters mixed up, and then it was the contractions, and knowing when and when not to use them," she says.

Coordinator of the Braille Challenge Sue Glaser explains those “contractions” with the word “candy.” Braille contractions are different from the contractions known to English grammarians.

“So one of the contractions in 'candy' is the ‘and,' and that only takes three spaces instead of five, so there are quite a few rules about when you can use the contractions and when you can’t,” she says.

These days, the National Federation of the Blind says just 10 percent of sightless people read Braille, but they still need it to be employable. Glaser agrees. She says Braille is like having pen and paper.  

“Print isn’t obsolete, so Braille isn’t obsolete,” she says. “It’s the foundation of literacy. That’s how all children learn to read whether it be with their eyes or their fingers.” 

And many people simply prefer writing and reading with it, she says.

Eighteen-year-old Brittany Grady (left) learns Braille at Edward White H.S. in Duval County. She was part of the Braille Challenge at the Jacksonville Public Library Jan. 28.