In trying desperately to destract myself from preparing for my wedding speech, I’ve decided to delve once again into the big scary world of braille literacy.
Sighted people tend to assume that every blind person knows braille. After all, Matt Murdock learned it within like, what, 3 months of going blind? It stands to reason that anyone could do that.
Except… no. Unfortunately, braille is something of a dying art among blind people in America. It’s estimated that approximately 90% of totally blind adults are illiterate. That number is staggering. Imagine for a minute that 90% of sighted adults were illiterate. The world would fall apart! But because blind people face the double-edged sowrd of low-expectations, nobody questions it when blind people use talking computers and audio-books instead of braille. It’s just considered part of a blind person’s life. And on a certain level, who cares? If your choice is to use speech rather than braille– that’s your choice, right?
But what if it’s not a choice? WHat if 95% of braille teachers were sighted, and what if they had only taken braille for, say, 3 hours a week for 14 weeks in college? What if the primary teachers of braille really weren’t fluent in it, and so of course they found it difficult to learn, teach, and to use? What if, just maybe, the death of braille literacy wasn’t in braille, itself, but in the instruction going into braille education?
Not to say that technology doesn’t have its uses. God knows, a talking computer has gotten me through the past ten years just fine. Apart from those times when my talking computer crashed… then I was screwed. Or when I wanted to read something quietly, or when I wanted to read something privately, or when I wanted to read something on a bus, or in a car, or without waiting for my laptop to boot up, or… you get the picture.
Yesterday I sat and listened to a very nice, very qualified professor tell a classroom full of future braille teachers that, “Sorry, people, but the reality is that a fluent braille reader will never read above a hundred words a minute. A print reader will read at about 250 words a minute. A speech user will read at about 300 words a minute. Braille really is an outdated medium for most people.”
I went up to the professor after class and asked her where she got her numbers. She admitted that she got them from a previous professor in the department, and she has no idea where he got them, but she thinks he was just making his best guess.
I explained that according to the numbers I’ve read– you know, in actual research– the numbers are simultaneously more encouraging and painfully discouraging to prospective braille readers than the ones she sited.
On one hand, the maximal braille reading speed for most people seems to be about 300WPM. On the other hand, the average braille reading speed seems to be about 104WPM. Compare that to the average print reading speed of 250WPM and an average electronic speech reading speed of an astounding 800 – 1,000WPM.
Good news: You can definitely reach braille reading speeds of 300WPM.
Bad news: For some reason most people don’t, and either way, using electronic speech is still a hell of a lot faster.
I walked out of there with a new resolve. I decided that I refuse to continue being a statistic. I went blind ten years ago next week, and I still read braille at an all-time-high of 25 – 40 WPM depending upon my familiarity with the material. I hate that about myself. I’ve always wanted a better, faster braille speed, but I’ve always found a reason to abandon my practice after a few days. (Mainly that it takes me 8 hours to read 30 pages.)
That’s crap. I refuse to continue spinning my wheels without traction. I refuse to let that professor be right. I *WILL* improve my braille reading speed. Come hell or high water, I *WILL* do my own impossible.
My commitment to myself is to use braille whenever possible for the duration of my graduate degree. I can use a computer with a braille screen to do my schoolwork. I can read braille books rather than have them read to me. I can type in braille on my iPhone rather than use dictate. (Yes, that’s a thing. Thank you, Apple.)
Even right now, I’m using my braille computer to write this blog post rather than my laptop.
I see it like this: The people who are telling me I’ll never be fluent in Spanish are themselves not fluent in Spanish. They’re beginners at best. But the native speakers out there couldn’t disagree more. So who would you believe?