Part 2: Relevance of Braille: Sighted Individuals Discuss the Relevance of Print in the 21st Century

Older man reading with magnifier

Caption: Older Man Reading with Magnifier

In Part 1 of this discussion, several blind people of different ages and backgrounds described various ways they use braille, showing why it is essential to their daily lives. In Part 2, several sighted people describe various ways they use print in their daily lives, showing reasons they could not function without it.

Sighted People Discuss the Importance of Print in Their Lives

Carla Earley

Carla is a sign language interpreter and also home schools her two teenage children, who will give their perspectives later in this post. Carla doesn’t hesitate to make her opinion clear with her very first comment. “Honestly, I’d be lost without written things.” She admitted that she is not an auditory learner. Print materials allow her to reread and highlight important information, ruminate on what she’s read and then reread again if necessary. Another point Carla makes is the ease of scanning and searching large amounts of printed text which is virtually impossible to do with audio formats.

Barb Bookholt

Barb is a retired teacher of children with learning disabilities and trainer of adults. Like Carla, Barb is not an auditory learner. “When I read a book, I underline, highlight, take notes in the margins, turn corners down, put sticky notes on, etc., etc. I am a prolific note taker; I take notes in lectures, classes, sermons, anytime I want to make sure I stay focused on the speaker and remember key points.” Barb uses a Kindle to do some of her reading and studying, but she still highlights, rights notes in the margins of her Kindle, and marks words so she can scan through the book and find every location of a specific word. “To think about a world without print boggles my mind and saddens my heart, she concedes.

Debbie Bass

Debbie is a Senior Management Analyst within the state Division of Emergency Management. Part of Debbie’s job requires her to write extensive reports on why or why not a building should be used as a hurricane evacuation shelter. For each site, she must build a case, providing evidence for fifteen criteria. She may review and compare up to 250 pages of architectural and engineering plans with what she actually saw at an onsite review. Each piece builds on the next and eventually fits together, laying out the evidence. Although her reports will eventually be summarized into a few pages, her initial reports are often 50 pages. Because this is only part of her job duties, Debbie can be interrupted at any point during the analysis, which can take 3-5 days to prepare. “When I come back, I need to be able to see where I stopped, quickly review and pick things up where I left off,” she stated. There is absolutely no way Debbie could do her work using audio alternatives to print.

Beth Perry

Beth is a nurse who works with several pediatricians. Like Debbie her work would be very difficult if not impossible without the use of print. Imagine the confusion and noise in the examining rooms using medical equipment with audio output only. Imagine, how a talking device would pronounce diseases, medications, and patient names. What kind of changes to HIPPA laws would be necessary, if every patient’s information was heard in the doctor’s office?

Like Carla, Barb, and every sighted participant, Beth stated, “I also remember things much better when I read rather than just listen.”

Christie Kimbrel

Christie is retired from the state Department of Law Enforcement but still very active in book clubs, Bible studies, and charitable organizations. Here are some of her comments after recent oral surgery on the convenience of print over auditory means:

“OK. I’m sitting on my couch on this sunny Saturday recovering from oral surgery. From this spot I can see about half a dozen pill bottles on my kitchen counter. All these bottles contain meds that are supposed to make me feel better and heal. They all have directions printed on them. I cannot imagine trying to figure out what I am supposed to take and, when, without being able to read the instructions.”

Due to hearing loss and sometimes experiencing difficulty calibrating hearing aids in public situations, Christie says printed copies of what a speaker is saying would amplify her listening. At home, she uses closed captioning when watching movies.

Christie’s need for print is similar to my own need for braille. When I attend a class, it’s nice to have a braille copy of the PowerPoints. When I attend an opera in Italian or French, it’s nice to have a braille copy of the synopsis.

Rebekah and David Earley

Rebekah and David are the teen daughter and son of Carla. They have many individual interests, but share an interest in music and braille. Although their reading and writing media are print, for the past two or three years, they have learned to read and write the braille alphabet and numbers. They have also observed how I use braille on a daily basis. On one occasion under my supervision, they made brownies under blindfold using a braille recipe. As you read Rebekah’s and David’s list below, keep in mind they have some perspectives on the relevancy of both print and braille:

Problems with Audio Formats Identified by Rebekah and David

  • Knowing where to touch things on the iPad screen. (They should have iPads with Braille screens.)
  • Telling the difference between shampoo & conditioner in the shower.
  • Identifying everything we bring home from the grocery store would be impossible without labels.
  • Remembering the ingredients we need and how much to use listening to an audio recipe.
  • Signing and filling out multiple pages of paperwork at doctor’s offices and permission forms for different school activities.
  • Reading music–how would you do that?
  • Learning a different language (especially those that don’t have letters like ours!) would be really hard without print.
  • Using audio textbooks with diagrams that explain things.

Beth and Barb also questioned the inconvenience of no street signs and the danger of no traffic signs such as stop, yield, and detour. They felt roads would be chaotic and downright dangerous and getting to work would be difficult at best. They also brought up the much used Google Maps? Note the word “Maps.” Yes, Google Maps uses electronics with an audio option, But many drivers use the “map” to check the screen for the upcoming highway exit or road change.

This problem came to pass when the Panhandle of Florida experienced something analogous after hurricane Michael. The environment changed drastically in places, eliminating landmarks and road signs. The lack of visual and written information made it virtually impossible for residents to identify roads or even follow maps.

Concerns Related to Participating in Card and Board Games

Braille Scrabble board

Caption: Braille Scrabble Board

All contributors to this post are all card and board game enthusiasts and expressed the same concerns. Card and most board games involve some form of print on the cards, board, and game pieces. The majority of card games use one or more decks of standard playing cards—52 cards of four suits ace through king with four jokers. How would four people play Canasta, Poker, Bridge, etc. in an audio format whether sighted or blind? The same question can be asked about Scrabble, Monopoly, Chess, Trivial Pursuit, or any other game that relies heavily on written information and spatial orientation and organization.


Although the samples have been small, these are strong, thought provoking arguments for the relevancy of print that would contribute equally well to the relevancy of braille. In several instances, braille and print users gave similar arguments against using audio formats solely. Most contributors, sighted and blind, indicated in some way that they are not auditory learners. In fact, only about 30% of the population whether sighted or blind is truly auditory learners. Additional comments point to other limitations inherent in audio formats. These formats, while helpful for obtaining information from large quantities of text, make it virtually impossible to skim a document or readily locate a specific section of a text, although some devices do allow one to bookmark sections. Audio formats do not communicate and reinforce spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, or literary formats. Also, absent from the argument for audio formats and the elimination of print or braille is a means of writing, communicating with others and oneself. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the National Assessment of Adult Learning, and other educational organizations focused on literacy, even though listening and speaking as well as reading and writing are characteristics of learning and communicating, reading and writing are the central characteristics of literacy.

Our final post in this series will look at the scientific evidence of the efficacy of braille.

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