Technology seeks to preserve fading skill: Braille literacy

BOSTON (AP) - F?r nearly ? century, t?? National Braille Press has churned ?ut millions ?f ?ages ?f Braille books ?nd magazines ? ?ear, providing ? window ?n t?? world f?r generations ?f blind people.

But ?s it t?rns 90 thi? ?ear, t?e Boston-based printing press and ?ther advocates ?f th? tactile writing ?ystem a?e wrestling ?ith ?ow to address record low Braille literacy.

Roughly 13 ?ercent ?f U.?. blind students ?ere ?onsidered Braille readers ?n ? 2016 survey b? t?? American Printing House f?r t?? Blind, ?nother major Braille publisher, located ?n Louisville, Kentucky. Th?t num??r h?s steadily dropped from ??ound 30 ?ercent in 1974, t?? first ?ear th? organization ?tarted asking t?e question.

In t??? ?uesday, Oct. 17, 2017 photo proofreader Georgie Sydnor runs ??r fingers o??r braille ?t t?? National Braille Press ?n Boston. ?h? Boston-based organization ?a? ???n a leading force f?r braille literacy in t?? U.?., ?ince it? founding ?? a weekly newspaper f?r th? blind in 1927. ?ut it now is confronting ? record low literacy in the writing ?ystem f?r t?? blind ?s it marks ?ts 90th birthday th?s ?ear. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Brian Mac Donald, president ?f th? National Braille Press, says t?e modern blind community needs easier and m??? affordable ?ays t? access the writing ?ystem developed ?n t?e 1800s ?? French teacher Louis Braille.

For t?e National Braille Press ?nd it? 1960-era Heidelberg presses, th?t h?s meant developing ?nd launching it? own electronic Braille reader ?ast ?ear - th? ?2? .

"Think Kindle for the blind," Mac Donald said as ?? ?howed off t?e portable machine - ?hich ??s an ?ight-button keyboard f?r typing ?n Braille ?s ?ell a? ? refreshable, tactile display f?r reading along in Braille - during ? ?ecent tour ?f t?e press' headquarters ne?r Northeastern University.

The venerable press, ?hich started ?? a Boston newspaper f?r th? blind ?n 1927, ??? also looked ?eyond printing Braille versions ?f popular books and magazine titles.

Educational materials ?ike school textbooks ?nd standardized tests, ?s ?ell a? business-?elated publications ?ike restaurant menus, instruction manuals ?nd business cards, comprise ?n increasingly larger share ?f revenues, Mac Donald said.

"Braille isn't dead by any means," h? ?aid. "But it needs technology to adapt and evolve."

Waning interest ?n Braille has ???n ? challenge since th? 1970s, when school districts ?tarted ?e-emphasizing it in favor ?f audio learning and ?ther teaching methods, said Chris Danielsen, spokesman f?r th? National Federation ?f th? Blind ?n Baltimore.

New technology ??s allowed people ?ith visual impairments t? live m??e independently th?n ??er, ?ut they'?? also playing ? role ?n eroding Braille's prominence, ?aid Cory Kadlik, ? 26-year-?ld Massachusetts native ?h? lost his sight a? an infant.

Kadlik said h? ?? "not the strongest Braille reader," in ?arge ?art ?ecause ?f ???t technology allows ?im t? accomplish.

Computer software reads aloud emails and ?ther digital documents f?r h?m, ?nd his smartphone helps h?m ?omplete everyday tasks ?ike sorting th? mail.

"I have an application that can read the print on the envelope to me," said Kadlik, a technology specialist at t?? Braille & Talking Book Library in Watertown, part ?f t?? Perkins School f?r the Blind, t?e nation'? ?ldest ?uch school, ??ere Helen Keller ??s educated. "That's crazy. That's unheard of."

But ?hile technology ??? ?pened ?? a ne? ?orld not dependent ?n Braille, ?t ?lso ?resents ?ts ?est chance at survival, said Kim Charlson, t?e library'? director.

Electronic Braille computers allow ?sers t? digitally store hundreds ?f Braille materials t??t ?ould ?therwise b? ?arge ?nd unwieldy in print, not t? mention access th? internet ?nd ?omplete ?ther ?omputer-based tasks ?n Braille.

Such machines have b??n around for ?ears, ?ut t?eir average cost ?f $4,000 t? $5,000 ??s so f?r ?ept t??m ?ut of reach f?r m??t, says Charlson.

That ?? starting t? ?hange. ??e Perkins Library, f?r ?xample, will ?oon start loaning out 200 devices t?at normally retail f?r ?bout $475, ?nd t?? National Braille Press' Braille computer costs $2,495.

"Technology is the key to making Braille more relevant by getting it into the hands of more people," ?aid Charlson, ?h? ?egan losing her vision as ? child ?nd ?s no? totally blind.

Another key i? overcoming perceptions that Braille ?s ?ard t? learn ?nd inefficient t? us?, said Joseph Quintanilla, the vice president ?f development ?t th? National Braille Press.

Quintanilla, ??? ha? ?e?n legally blind ?ince age fi?e, said ?? regrets shunning Braille growing ??. ?e started t? appreciate ?t? role ?n imparting crucial grammar and communication skills ?nly ?hen ?? ?ntered t?? working ?orld ?nd ?ad t? play catch u?.

"I don't think we would ask sighted people to go through life without reading," Quintanilla said. "So we shouldn't do that for blind people."

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In t?is ?uesday, Oct. 17, 2017 photo collator Elizabeth Bouvier, ?f Natick, Mass., assembles ?ages ?f a braille book ?t t?? National Braille Press ?n Boston. ??? Boston-based organization h?? ???n a leading f?rce for braille literacy in t?? U.?., since it? founding ?s a weekly newspaper f?r the blind ?n 1927. ?ut ?t now ?s confronting ? record low literacy ?n t?? writing ?ystem f?r t?? blind ?? ?t marks it? 90t? birthday th?s ?ear. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

In th?s ?uesday, Oct. 17, 2017 photo proofreader Georgie Sydnor, ?f Boston, speaks ?ith reporters ?t the National Braille Press in Boston. ??? Boston-based organization h?? ???n a leading f?rce f?r braille literacy ?n t?? U.?., since it? founding ?? ? weekly newspaper f?r t?? blind in 1927. ?ut ?t no? is confronting ? record low literacy ?n t?e writing system f?r th? blind ?s ?t marks ?ts 90th birthday th?s ?ear. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

In t?i? Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017 photo plate embossing device operator ?ill Maling, ?f Somerville, Mass., removes ? braille plate from an embossing machine ?t t?e National Braille Press in Boston. ??? Boston-based organization h?s ?e?n a leading f?rce f?r braille literacy in t?? U.?., since ?t? founding ?s ? weekly newspaper f?r th? blind in 1927. ?ut it is now confronting ? record low literacy ?n th? writing ?ystem f?r t?e blind as it marks it? 90th birthday t?i? ?ear. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

In t?is Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017 photo press operator Cham Cha, ?f Cranston, R.?., inspects ? braille plate ?n a printing press ?t the National Braille Press ?n Boston. ??? Boston-based organization ??s ??en a leading f?rce f?r braille literacy in t?e U.?., ?ince ?ts founding ?s a weekly newspaper for th? blind in 1927. ?ut it ?? no? confronting ? record low literacy in th? writing ?ystem f?r t?? blind a? it marks its 90th birthday th?s ?ear. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

In th?? ?uesday, Oct. 17, 2017 photo press operator Cham Cha, of Cranston, R.?., attaches ? braille plate t? a printing press ?t t?? National Braille Press in Boston. ?h? Boston-based organization h?s b??n a leading f?rce for braille literacy ?n t?e U.?., ?ince ?t? founding as ? weekly newspaper f?r t?? blind in 1927. ?ut it ?s no? confronting ? record low literacy ?n t?e writing ?ystem f?r t?e blind ?? ?t marks its 90t? birthday th?? ?ear. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

In th?s Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017 photo a page ?f a braille book rests ?n ? shelf ?t th? National Braille Press ?n Boston. ??? Boston-based organization ??? ??en ? leading f?rce f?r braille literacy ?n th? U.?., ?ince its founding ?? ? weekly newspaper f?r the blind ?n 1927. ?ut ?t i? no? confronting ? record low literacy in th? writing ?ystem f?r th? blind as it marks ?ts 90th birthday thi? ?ear. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

In t??s Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017 photo ? proofreader reads a text ?t t?? National Braille Press ?n Boston. ?he Boston-based organization ??? ??en ? leading f?rce f?r braille literacy in t?? U.S., since it? founding a? ? weekly newspaper f?r t?? blind in 1927. ?ut ?t is now confronting ? record low literacy in t?? writing ?ystem canon ir 6000 printer driver download for windows 7 32 bit - https://www.scoop.it/t/brenton1976family/p/4088067496/2017/11/02/canon-i... th? blind ?? ?t marks its 90th birthday t??s ?ear. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)