Why such a focus on Braille?

Since we started this project to make board games accessible one thing that has come occasionally has been people will tell me the stats on Braille knowledge among the blind community with the concept that I’m wasting my time. Fewer than 10 percent of the 1.3 million people who are legally blind in the United States are Braille readers. A meager 10 percent of blind children are learning it.

The argument is simple. Technology such as voice over in electronics, scanning software like KNB reading software or crowd funded solutions like Be My Eyes, and even older things like closed circuit televisions make it so a blind person doesn’t need this obsolete technology anymore. They can just use their technologies for any reading needs.

Of course few people even with these technologies would advocate no braille for a person with no sight whatsoever. These people believe it is only the ones who truly have no sight that need braille. It’s expensive, hard, and nobody uses it.

The problem is that most people who are blind aren’t 100% blind. This is why only 10% of blind people know braille. People hear ‘legally blind’ and what they hear is ‘this person can see’. And they can.

20/200 vision means what most people see at 200 feet is similar to what a blind person sees at 20 feet.

And a person with low vision like this can read… for a while.

I don’t know if I truly understood eye fatigue 3 years ago, long after my involvement in the blind community. Before that point I didn’t need glasses ever. I was very proud of my eyesight boasting that I was the only person in my family who didn’t need glasses.

This changed when I took some continuing education classes. It was a Web design course and I was trying to copy some code out of the book. I couldn’t figure out if the letter I was trying to copy was an e, a or o. It looked kind of circle like but it was blury.. no matter which I tried the code didn’t work and the longer I stared at it, the more blurred it became. I gave up and put it off to another day.

It turned out to be a Unicode character not a letter at all when I looked at it the next day, clear as day. So I got back to work. A half hour later I looked at it and it was a complete blur like the other day.

People inherently understand ‘I can’t see this’ but they can’t understand ‘I can see this for about 15 minutes and then it becomes a terrible blur’.

The teachers, parents, and blind students don’t understand this either. They don’t understand when they are 20 and taking this class in college they won’t be able to work for an hour without a break. The students are telling their parents and teachers that they can see it and they aren’t lying. They can just use copiers to blow up print to 10X normal size right? That’s a lot cheaper than braille.
So why bother with braille if they can already see? But the fact is sight declines and the duration you need to use sight increases as you get older.

People in this scenario don’t learn they need braille until they are older. Universally I have heard they wish they learned it earlier. If you want to be fluent in braille you should learn it as early as possible. You can pick it up at any age but time is of the essence.

People sometimes act like it is print OR braille, that teaching braille early will be to the exclusion of teaching print. That’s crap. If the kid is able to learn print, they are going to learn print. It is everywhere. They would have to actively try to avoid print not to learn it.

I will be clear, in my opinion, I think blind people should learn braille unless 1 of 2 situations is true.

A. They physically cannot due to nerve damage or mobility issues.

Or

B. They cognitively cannot because of brain damage or memory issues.

Other than that, I just don’t buy it. You’re too old? No you’re not if you are breathing. Do you plan on dying immediately?

Braille is so hard with those dots I hear. Well, print is so hard with those shapes and you learned that!

It might not be the most useful thing in all circumstances but it is one tool in your toolkit and you want to have as many as possible.

But I am a teacher so I pretty much believe you should learn as much as you can about everything. I never see a downside of learning.

From a business perspective Braille is the obvious choice for us even if a lot of people don’t know it. Legally we can copy games that are protected by copyright so long as it is an accessible format. That means braille or a digital format like with the QR codes. We CAN work with companies who own the games but we don’t HAVE to because of the way copyright law works.
If we tried to do large print games we would need to get approval from everyone down the pipeline. Assuming we got the approval we would need to find some way to manufacture and reprint the game. This just isn’t going to happen with us. I think there is room for a print on demand service that does large print games(even if they just enlarge existing art) but I’m not going to be that service because I don’t have the skills or equipment.

But personally I think Braille is the right choice for us anyway.

One thing that we can do here at 64 Oz to help promote Braille is by making more things that are worth reading available. I don’t think that we’re doing great literature or anything but I do think we have the potential to help braille literacy with our product. It is placing braille into a fast paced and repetitive environment, almost like flash cards.
Except fun.
So spreading games to a new audience while improving Braille literacy?
I’m glad I’m doing what I’m doing.
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