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Listening is not literacy

Imagine walking into a restaurant only to discover that there is no menu available. Or imagine that you open your mail but the information is presented in a font that you are unable to read. Finally, imagine that your child's teacher contacts you to inform you that instead of learning to read, your child will somehow acquire an education by listening to live readers and automated speech. How would you respond to any or all of these scenarios? These are situations faced by blind people every day.

It is a well-documented scientific fact that the cognitive processes involved in listening versus reading are very different. This is true of blind and sighted people alike. Simply put, listening is not literacy. It is by learning to read and write that we — whether blind or sighted — learn proper spelling, grammar, and use of punctuation. Braille literacy is not a luxury; it is as essential to the blind as print is to the sighted. To deprive someone of the opportunity to become literate is to drastically limit his or her potential.

The National Federation of the Blind, an organization of blind people in the United States, publishes a magazine called The Braille Monitor. The May 2009 issue featured an article describing the braille literacy crisis in the U.S., a situation that is comparable to that which exists in Canada. The final paragraph sums up the perspective of proficient braille users perfectly:

For over 150 years braille has been recognized as the most effective means of reading and writing for the blind. Hundreds of thousands of blind people have found braille an indispensable tool in their education, their work, and their daily lives, even as professionals in the field of blindness continued to debate the merits of the system. Certainly more empirical evidence is needed to break down the wall of misunderstanding that still stands between all too many blind people and proper braille instruction. The braille codes and the technology to reproduce them can and will continue to improve. But the lives of successful blind people testify to the usefulness of Braille, and in the face of that testimony the only truly professional and moral course of action is to ensure that all blind people have access to competent Braille instruction. In the hearts and minds of blind people, no alternative system or new technology has ever replaced braille where the rubber meets the road — in the living of happy, successful, productive lives. ...

**Braille literacy is not a luxury; it is as essential to the blind as print is to the sighted. **

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