Coffee with Kalari: Is Braille Still Important Today?

This article is part of a weekly series written by Kalari, a writer, athlete, mother and employee of The Chicago Lighthouse who is visually impaired. She shares her perspective on a variety of topics in order to build community.

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I know this is a very touchy topic and I have seen people get into passionate conversations over this issue. I use braille but it is very limited. I prefer to have audio books and I prefer to use talking software such as Voiceover with the iPhones and I also use JAWS which is a screen reader that is used on computers.  I have friends, however, that are totally opposite from me. I have friends that prefer to read in braille.   We often get into passionate arguments about this topic. I guess it depends on the person.

I lost my vision as a child. Even after losing my vision, I continued to use large print. My parents wanted to preserve some of the vision I had left. I had several large print books and I often used devices such as magnifying glasses and CCTVs when I read. I used to strain my eyes for hours trying to use the little vision I had. I remember feeling so helpless. It used to take 40 minutes for me to complete one page. I remember often forgetting what I read at the beginning of the page because I took such a long time to read.

Close up of a person's hands, who is reading braille

After struggling to hold on to my vision for years, the decision was made that I would transition into braille. This was bad news for my parents because they were trying to salvage the little vision I had left. Even though my parents were discouraged by the news, they worked with my teachers to change my curriculum from large print to braille. At the age of 8, I began to use braille. As I got older, however, I began to transition into using talking books and other audible software. I liked this better because braille books are often large and take up a lot of room. One printed book would often end up being multiple books in braille. I often read braille pretty slow so it drives me crazy because I like to have information quickly.

I found that as I got older, I just needed braille for math and learning another language. I have to physically read in math and have to read how a word is spelled other languages to learn it. This is the only reason why I would use braille in school.

Today, I often still use braille to label different items in my kitchen and to read room numbers in different buildings.  I have recently begun to read braille books to my baby. This is a time we both look forward too. When my oldest daughter was young, I used to also read braille books to her as well. Outside of these main instances, I have no need for braille. I am not saying that braille is not necessary, because it is. There is just not a lot of use for braille in my world!

How do you feel about braille? How often do you use it? How do you feel about braille compared to talking software such as JAWS? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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