The Braille Monitor                                                                                       December, 2002

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A Morsel to Chew On

by Barbara Walker

Barbara Walker
Barbara Walker

From the Editor: Barbara Walker is a longtime leader in the NFB of Nebraska. She chairs the Nebraska Commission for the Blind. She is also a lifelong Braille user and advocate. Recently Barbara wrote the following piece for consideration by a group of teachers. It appeared in the summer/fall edition of News from Blind Nebraskans, a publication of the NFB of Nebraska. Here it is:

Feeling overwhelmed about how to deal with the topic of the importance of quality Braille, I suddenly remembered the answer to the question, "How do you eat an elephant?" The answer is, of course, "One bite at a time." So here's a morsel to chew on:

Imagine that you're sitting in class at school. A packet of Braille is set before you. The teacher asks the class to scan the headings quickly and sing out whenever students find one. All around you others are doing just that. Frantically you begin to read, hoping to determine from the context what might be a heading. You wonder how they're doing it.

By now the room is quieting down. "Wow! That was a cinch," someone says. "What's next?"

"Tell me now," you hear the teacher say, "which section on page 2 has the most expensive item in it." Even more unsure now, you check the top right-hand corner of the second page. No number is there. You wonder if you should continue looking for headings so that you can distinguish one item from another, or if you should keep trying to find page 2.

While you are contemplating, the teacher comes by and says, "You look upset. Am I going too fast for you? They said you could work at grade level if you had the material in Braille, but if you can't follow even these simple directions, I don't know."

What is the problem here? Both you and the teacher understandably assume that your Braille text is identical to the print version from which the others are working. The reality is most likely that this is not the case. While the actual text may be the same, chances are that the formatting isn't. If the material was merely run through a scanner and Braille translation software, there may be no indicators—nothing centered, no blank lines, no hanging or indented paragraphs. Everything could be flush left—just one big mass of text. This might be so even if the printed text was in columns, since lines may commingle, making the information incomprehensible.

As for the page numbers, perhaps they weren't Brailled. Maybe page 1 in print took several pages in Braille, so checking the second page of Braille would reveal no number. And had you started looking in earnest for items and costs, it's possible that the dollars-and-cents symbols might have been embossed in either literary or Nemeth code or a combination of the two.

When we conclude either that a blind student is unable to grasp simple concepts or that Braille is necessarily slower and more cumbersome to use, we are missing the point. Braille, like print, is most useful when producers, proofreaders, and readers are properly trained. Let's try giving the same attention to producing quality Braille that we show for producing clear print, and then let's expect the same level of performance from blind and sighted students alike. Watch how quickly the elephant of misconception gets gobbled up.

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