by Craig Meador, President, APH
Photo shows a boy reading braille.
Technology has been a boon for everyone and people who areblind or visually impaired have benefited a great deal from the availability of,and perhaps, more importantly, the efforts to make technology fully accessible. There are more ways to learn and accessinformation and entertainment than ever before, thanks to these advances in technology.While this has provided great cause for celebration (believe me, we at APH arethe biggest fans) it has also come with some misinformation and incorrect assumptionsabout the need for braille. Let me beginby saying these advances will not take the place of braille as e-readers willnever entirely replace printed materials.
Braille is an established form of communication used bypeople around the world who are blind and visually impaired. Braille isessential to literacy, because it incorporates all the elements of the printedword, including spelling and punctuation. Although screen readers andaudiobooks provide people who are blind or visually impaired additional ways toaccess information, braille is foundational for lifelong learning.At the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), we see evidence that braille is alive andwell every day. We’re printing more braille pages than ever before. We’refilling more orders for braille teaching tools than in the past. And morefor-profit companies are coming to us for braille printing services. That’sdue, in part, to hard-fought laws that require companies to provide braille materialsas part of making their information accessible to everyone. At APH, we’re so confidentabout the importance and future of braille that we recently introduced BrailleBlaster™, a revolutionary newsoftware tool that translates text into braille quickly, easily, andaccurately. When we started this project, our goal was to provide a tool thatmade it possible for every child to have braille materials on the first day ofschool. Braille textbooks are widely used in schools, but it can take weeks ormonths to produce braille materials using manual braille transcription. BrailleBlaster efficiently converts printinto braille so students who are blind or visually impaired can have theirtextbooks on the first day of class.
BrailleBlaster’s innovative technology will help put studentswho are blind or visually impaired on equal footing with their sightedpeers—letting them show everyone that they can achieve just as much as anyoneelse, if they’re given equal access to information. Best of all, BrailleBlastercan be downloaded absolutely free by braille transcribers, teachers, students,businesses, community organizations, and of course, parents at brailleblaster.org. By providingBrailleBlaster for free, APH is hoping to expand access to braille around theworld to unprecedented levels.
There’s plenty of other evidence that braille is here tostay. Several groups are creating fullpage braille displays and graphic tablets and braille technology is gettingmore and more affordable. The OrbitReader 20 will be the first refreshable braille device you can purchase forless than $500, making braille access through technology even more widespread aroundthe globe.At APH, we believe in braille. We know it’s crucial to literacyand independence. Please hear me clearly on this point. We are not saying that other technology, suchas screen readers that now come standard with many devices, like the iPhone, orthe AI advances that read signs and materials to you aren’t important options. We’llalways support the availability of new technology that helps make informationmore accessible and promotes independence. But this technology’s place isalongside braille—as a complement, not a replacement. We are on the cusp ofa braille revolution. With better access to transcription, the support ofaccessibility laws, the hard work of good teachers, the advent of affordablebraille technology and the advocacy of parents and professionals we are poisedto see braille elevated in schools, workplaces, homes, and communities likenever before. APH is proud to be a part ofthis revolution, and we look forward to sharing the exciting days ahead withall of you.