Not All Blind People Read Braille and Here’s Why

Empish Reading Braille Calendar with Her Fingers

Braille Literacy  Month is almost over and I am sharing  another post on the topic. Most people think  if a person is blind, which includes low vision and total blindness, they must know and read braille. For those that think this, I am about to burst your bubble because not all blind people read braille.

Some might ask if braille is a useful tool for reading and writing why don’t all blind people use it? If it opens up literacy, employment and independence  what is the problem? Well, there are several reasons why a blind person might not access this tool. But before I give those reasons let me clarify one point.

Decrease in Braille Reading Overall

Empish Using an iPhone

Braille reading is decreasing  overall because of advancements in technology. Devices like smartphones, audiobooks, and screen readers  allow blind people to access information electronically  verses reading printed braille. However, there are electronic braille devices like note takers and refreshable braille displays but a knowledge of braille is still required for their usage.

5 Reasons Blind People Don’t Read Braille

1. Braille is harder to learn later in life. There is a saying you can’t teach old dogs new tricks, and there is a nugget of truth in that statement. Learning braille is much like learning to read when you were a kid. You learned alphabets and numbers. then move to words and phrases. Lastly sentences and paragraphs. Although you were young and could learn quickly, it still took work, time  and tons of practice. Braille is no different. So, some older adults find it hard because of the work  and practice it takes to be proficient.

A braille watch is on the wrist of one hand with the top open. While the other hand figures out the time by pressing a finger on the raised display.

2. Medical reasons make it hard to read braille. IF a person has diabetic retinopathy, stroke   side affects or other  issues with their fingers and hands braille is hard to learn and read. It takes a light touch to read the dot formations. Even though the dots are raised  they are small and a sensitive finger is needed to read properly.

3. There are social stigmas  and stereotypes about blindness. Much like using a white cane, reading braille is one of them. If a person is seen reading braille the assumption is they are blind. Some people don’t want to have that label or disclose their visual disability  in such a public way. So, they won’t access it.

Empish Holding White Cane at Street Intersection

4. Regardless of social perceptions, reading braille is a personal acceptance of  having a disability. If a blind person has a negative attitude or is in denial about their disability, braille will be the last thing on their mind. Braille has such a strong association with blindness. Only after embracement will they be more open minded.

5. IF a person has  some eyesight  they might not read braille. Some who are low vision and can read with large print or magnification  might not learn braille. The idea is they have enough vision to do without it. But if  they are increasing the magnification to the point only a few words are on the screen or in the book, reading becomes unenjoyable, laborious and difficult. Also, reading comprehension skills suffer. But because they are not totally blind  there is little encouragement to learn braille.

My Own Braille Journey

I have been a part of the blind community for about 25 years and spent 10 of them working at a vision rehabilitation center. From my own personal  journey with braille and work experience  these 5 reasons  are my observations  and answer to the question why  blind people don’t read braille.

A black and white braille label gun with turn dial displaying both braille and print letters and numbers.
A black and white braille label gun with turn dial displaying both braille and print letters and numbers.

I am not a strong proficient braille reader. I made several attempts over the years  but  was not successful. I have enough braille knowledge to do the things that I need to for my life. That being proficient in alphabetic Braille is enough for now. I realize that reading books and magazines is a great thing to want to achieve but in all honesty my life is busy and I don’t have the time. I have learned to be okay with that.

Social Pressure to Read Braille

I also discovered that part of wanting to be a strong braille reader was because of social pressure. As a blind person you are supposed to be proficient in braille. That is what everyone expects and even sometimes demands. People are genuinely surprise when they hand me a book or document and I tell them I am not able to fully read it. There is this perception that braille automatically goes with blindness-no questions asked.

So whether you want to or not. Whether it makes sense or not. Whether you can or not. You do it or die trying! HaHa! That is what I was doing. I was trying hard to live up to this expectation that really did not fit who and what I am. I was not being authentic and true to myself.

6 thoughts on “Not All Blind People Read Braille and Here’s Why

  1. Another great piece, Empish! Thanks for your frank and discerning approach to this topic. I had a tough time learning Braille as well. It was complicated. I had too much vision. Finally, I became desperate to read and write. Writing is the second half of literacy many folks forget about. Just being able to read my own grocery list. Or something more creative. I became highly motivated to learn when my children came along. I wanted to read to them. So I tried once more. Really tried for their sake. Now I can’t imagine life without those amazing six little dots. I’m glad Braille has found its way into your life to some degree. We need all the tools we can manage to deal with daily life. Keep writing. And I’ll keep reading! Peace.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Joan, thanks for your encouraging and thoughtful comment. Yes, I have thought about those little daily tasks where braille would be an excellent tool. I do read some and find it very helpful. Who knows what the future holds. I might try and pick it up again because I do see its benefit.

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      1. Oh I hope you give it another try. Or even two or three. And if I can help in any way, please be in touch! I used to teach Braille as a Rehap teacher in Missouri.

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  2. Enlightening post as usual. The other day I just watched a video on Facebook about how this blind jiu-jitsu competitor goes about his day, and it was pretty cool seeing how he journals in braille too. I respect anyone with this skill, because I’ve touched braille imprints before, and I can barely differentiate the actual patterns, let alone learn an entire language. Thanks for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

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