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Guest Blog: Writing for Social Change

Mon, 04 Mar 2013 by Marinela Ortiz

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by: Marinela Ortiz
University of Central Florida

2013, a new year of Oscar winners, new upcoming musical talents, and new technology, especially ones with talking apps like the Siri on the I-Phone 4S and Kindle for example. Even though we see new technology coming out with voice, it feels like more people in the visually impaired world are starting to turn to these talking items rather than learning Braille. I do admit I do own a computer with JAWS and one of the Siri phones, but I still use Braille everyday. I know it’s shock and awe to read this but Braille is very efficient to use and it does things that talking technology can’t do for someone who can’t see.

When I was 15 I found out that I had Retinitis Pigmentosa and knew I had to be prepared once I lose all of my vision or at least one eye so far. I had an introduction into Braille through a mobility An Image showing what you would see if you had Glaucomainstructor that came to my high school and taught me some skills in writing and the alphabet and by age 23, after losing my right eye, I started learning Braille through Hadley School for the Blind and had some tutoring in 2010 through Lighthouse Central Florida with Grade 2. By looking at how long it took for me to get through learning the alphabet, the contractions, and writing it, it took forever to learn but with the amount of time and practice it was fun and gave me a learning experience of the lifetime as a blind person, especially when it came to using a label maker. What makes it sad though is how talking technology is taking this learning experience away from the blind and the skills from the ones who already learned it at a young age and need to relearn it.

What Can Braille Do For The Blind That Technology Doesn’t?
An image of someone reading BrailleFor one thing, technology can’t label items that a person with no sight or low vision need. Of course smart phones can take pictures of the item and tell you what is it but labeling items with a label maker helps with finding that item, such as a bottle of hot sauce in your pantry and putting a label on witch hazel in order to tell it apart from hydrogen peroxide in the bathroom. Plus, places use Braille on signs to tell which room it is, which I tend to do when I am on campus at University of Central Florida, I read the Braille to see which room is which when I am trying to find a classroom on my schedule or a specific department in a building that is unknown to me. And finally, Braille can be a useful study tool when it comes to memorization for tests and helps flex the skills even more if someone can get their hands on a Braille book themselves. There are many positive aspects of Braille that someone in this new age of technology never realizes that it does help every day.

What About Technology With Braille?
someone using a Braille Note deviceEven though there are smart phones that talk, there are pieces of technology that exist that use both screen readers and a Braille displays and they are the Braille Note and Braille Sense. These pieces of technology are very useful and easy to handle with the right kind of training. The great thing about these devices is that not only I can surf the web through mobile versions of websites but I can also read books on it, and adjust the voice to having it on or off, which helps studying notes and taking notes in class without the distraction from it speaking. It will also help more of the visually impaired learn Braille as a first step before getting their hands on these gadgets and get used to the feeling of the dots underneath their fingers.

As you can see, Braille is something that can’t be skipped. It helps the visually impaired become more independent, be able to label items, and see what technological advances someone can use with these lovable dots. Plus, it opens a new highway of learning and reading to someone that is new to the world of the blind. So, everyone don’t knock it if you try it!

-Marinela Ortiz, University of Central Florida
Marinela Ortiz is a Florida resident and student at the University of Central Florida. She offers these blogs and insights to living with vision loss as part of a “Writing for Social Change” class project. One of Marinela’s many goals as a person with vision loss is to show how she can use her condition as a teaching tool for others to learn how to live with vision loss.