The Importance of Braille Literacy: An Open Letter to the New York Times from Daniel Aronoff

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Daniel Aronoff the Blind Food Critic

Guest blogger Daniel Aronoff is New York City's premier blind food critic. You can read about his culinary experiences at The Real Blind Taste Test© blog and @blindblog on Twitter. Daniel received the People's Choice Award in the Dining and Entertainment category of CBS New York's Most Valuable Blogger Awards 2011.

Following is Daniel's response to Listening to Braille: With New Technologies, Do Blind People Lose More Than They Gain?, in which New York Times author Rachel Aviv explores the meaning of literacy and role of braille in our ever-increasing electronic and auditory world. In honor of Louis Braille (born January 4, 1809) and National Braille Literacy Month, Daniel has given permission to reproduce his response, entitled The Importance of Braille Literacy, which first appeared on The Real Blind Taste Test blog.

Listening or Reading?

Rachel Aviv's article asks a provocative question: With New Technologies, Do Blind People Lose More Than They Gain? In my opinion, there is very much that we can gain; however, it should not be forgotten how much we have to lose.

Technology is a great thing; I think many of us can agree on that statement. Unfortunately, technology is also being used regularly as a substitute for braille, which I cannot condone.

My Experience with Braille

When I was five years old, I learned to read braille, the ingenious system of dots representing letters, numbers, music, and accents. To this day, my bookshelves are still filled with volumes of braille: Harry Potter, Shakespeare, cookbooks, and books filled with puzzles. (Yes, I am a crossword fan, and many of those books were written by the New York Times' Will Shortz, its current crossword editor.)

Braille and My Everyday Life

Not to be redundant, but braille is my print, and I use it in my everyday life. A few examples include reading books, braille notes, and public signs (since I wouldn't want to walk into the wrong bathroom). I don't want this generation of children to grow up without knowing how to spell, with no knowledge of vocabulary, or not understanding concepts like paragraphs, tabs, and margins.

However, if it were up to Ms. Sloate, the first woman interviewed in this disturbing, yet interesting, article by Rachel Aviv, braille would be "abolished." Well, this is very easy for Ms. Sloate to say, since she receives all of her news media in an audio format and she has a secretary to whom she can dictate, a luxury that most of us will never possess. I comprehend that braille is expensive, but does that mean that this nation's 1.3 million citizens who are blind should be deprived of knowing what a comma is?

From my experiences, I can tell you that I personally use braille for certain types of materials but not for others; for example, braille is almost a necessity for foreign languages, mathematics, sciences, and music. I don't intend to take a negative stance on technology because I really do enjoy it. In fact, I am a happy member of audible.com, where I read two audio books every month – I think the Audible site and many others that offer audio materials are excellent.

Audio or Braille?

However, I am simply puzzled by the following question: "Do you use audio or braille?"

OR?

I'm sorry, but ... really? Were we supposed to make a choice about that? Since when were audio and braille mutually exclusive?

Even the exponential increase in the use of technology among the blind does not indicate that we must eliminate the amazing braille system. If this were a multiple-choice question, I would circle "all of the above." In other words, technology is excellent, but don't let braille die!

Additional Literacy and Braille Information

Read our interview with Daniel in VisionAware's Working Life Personal Stories.

For additional information about Louis Braille and braille reading and writing, visit American Foundation for the Blind's Louis Braille Online Museum and Braille Bug Site. You can also read My Journey Back to Braille and Why Braille is So Important to Me on the VisionAware blog.


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