Blind literacy rate declines to below 10%
By Ben Nuckols, Associated Press
BALTIMORE -- Fewer than 10% of the 1.3 million legally blind people in
the United States read Braille, and just 10% of blind children are
learning it, according to a report to be released today by the National
Federation of the Blind.
By comparison, at the height of its use in the 1950s, more than half the
nation's blind children were learning Braille. Today, Braille is
considered by many to be too difficult, too outdated and a last resort.
Instead, teachers ask students to rely on audio texts, voice-recognition
software and other technology. And teachers who know Braille often must
shuttle between schools, resulting in haphazard instruction, the report
"You can find good teachers of the blind in America, but you can't find
good programs," said Marc Maurer, the group's president. "There is not a
commitment to this population that is at all significant almost
Using technology as a substitute for Braille leaves blind people
illiterate, the federation said, citing studies that show blind people
who know Braille are more likely to earn advanced degrees, find good
jobs and live independently.
Technology no substitute
One study found that 44% of participants who grew up reading Braille
were unemployed, compared with 77% for those who relied on print.
Overall, blind adults face 70% unemployment.
The most recent report pulled together existing research on Braille
literacy, a method that its authors acknowledge was less than
comprehensive. The 10% figure comes from federal statistics gathered by
the American Printing House for the Blind, a company that develops
products for those who are visually impaired.
The federation also did some original research, including a survey of
500 people that found the ability to read Braille correlated with higher
levels of education, a higher likelihood of employment and higher
The report coincides with the 200th birthday of Louis Braille, the
Frenchman who invented the Braille code as a teenager. Resistance to his
system was immediate; at one point, the director of Braille's school
burned the books he and his classmates had transcribed. The school did
not want its blind students becoming too independent; it made money by
selling crafts they produced.
The system caught on, but began declining in the 1960s along with the
widespread integration of blind children into public schools. It has
continued with the advent of technology that some say makes Braille
"Back in about 1970 or so, I was heading to college, and somebody said
to me, 'Now that you've got the tape recorder, everything will be all
right.' In the early 1980s, somebody else said, 'Now that you've got a
talking computer, everything will be all right,' " said Marc Maurer,
president of the federation.
"They were both wrong. And the current technology isn't going to make
everything all right unless I know how to put my hands on a page that
has words on it and read them."