Braille is incredibly useful to the visually impaired but, to Judith Furse’s great frustration, there is still a lot of information which is not available in this format.
I have written before about how much I rely on braille for quick, easy and independent access to information. It’s really valuable and important to me. Braille makes my life so much easier, so why, WHY is it still so difficult to get some information in this format?
The fact is that only a tiny percentage of the information that’s available in ordinary print ever finds its way into alternative formats such as braille. So while I receive bank statements and energy bills in braille, I am still fighting to get medical letters in this format.
Yes, that’s right. My doctor sends me letters in print which I can’t read because I am visually impaired. I have to get someone else to read them to me, thereby immediately compromising my confidentiality.
It’s humiliating and it’s frustrating, and it’s only one example among many.
In an age when sighted people have easy access to printed descriptions of products and directions on how to use them, it is maddening not to be able to read cooking instructions on food packets, or easily distinguish shampoo from bath foam. I mean, could you tell the difference just from feeling the bottle or smelling the contents?
I’ve mentioned previously that I’m a member of a book group. One of the things we like to do is read plays together, with each one of us reading a different character. My friends do their best to include me, but that means we can only read plays that I can get in braille. You’d be surprised how many aren’t available in this format.
It’s a similar story with my poetry group. There’s a theme each month and each of us chooses a poem related to that theme and reads it aloud at our next get-together. It’s nice to read other people’s choices in advance so that you’re familiar with them, but friends often choose poems from collections which, because they are so large, are unlikely ever to find their way into braille. Poetry in braille is a niche market. The choice is limited.
And then there is question of how I get to read newspapers.
Yes, most newspapers and many magazines are available on line these days, and I’m grateful that text-to-speech software means that I can access them on my computer, although navigation can be slow and clumsy. What I really miss, though, is just being able to pick up a paper and glance through it. I don’t think sighted people realise how much general knowledge they quite casually pick up in this way.
Braille newspapers and magazines exist, of course, but so much that is available in print never finds its way into braille.