I had a very unhappy childhood and books became my way of escaping. “Kidnapped”,Dr Who, Thor and Superman. The Iliad and stories of the Vikings. Fantasy and science fiction. I learnt of Ancient Egypt and the Prehistory of Avery and Stonehenge. I read and read and the pages would open up new worlds to me and stretch my imagination to the farthest reaches of the galaxy and beyond. I traveled in time and space. When I became blind and also hearing impaired I decided to teach myself Braille. It took me nearly a year to struggle through the alphabet. But I did it. My fingers slowly began to take the place of my eyes.
My very first Braille book was “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”. It was a child’s novella really and I was in my 30’s then. But that did not matter. It took me an three hours to struggle through just one page and 2 month to finish the single Braille volume. And I was so proud and happy. I now had a way of continuing to read even if I became totally blind and totally deaf.
Now I can sit back and my fingers skim the dots with ease so that I am barely aware of individual letters any more. As I feel rapidly along the lines the words form in my mind without any effort. The world of books lies open to me. They offer me a place where I can learn and grow. Where I can relax or thrill to an epic space battle or where magic explodes out off the pages. Reading Braille is a freedom which breaks through the barriers created by my disability that I have had since birth. Braille is freedom.
My only complaint is the severe limitations of Braille books that are available. only 7% of printed books are available in Braille, large print or audio titles. Of those less than roughly 2% of all printed books are available in Braille alone.
It is a tiny proportion of books in print. Imagine going into any bookshop on the High Street and there are shelves and shelves of printed books on display and you are told. Sorry, no you cannot have this one, or that one.. no nor that one either. This little one here on the very back shelf is the only one available in Braille. Well actually not even the whole book. Here are just a few pages. And by the way you will have to pay far more than the cost of the full printed paperback for it!. There is a good chance that it is not even on a subject you are interested in. Anyone would find that frustrating to say the least.
I believe all visually impaired and dual sensory impaired people should be able to read any book they want in the same way someone sighted can. On the same day, for the same price as anyone else and in the comfort of my own home with a nice cup of coffee on the table next to them…. The same as anyone else.
What is needed is a readily available means of converting printed material into Braille in your own home. There are literally thousands of printed books over a wide range of subjects available for free online for example. From the Guttenburg Library to name just one source. But these are in print.
What is needed is a Braille display that works with any computer that will convert the print on the screen to tactile Braille dots. Not the current Refreshable Braille readers that can easily cost over £6000 to which is added another £1000 or more for the special software to run it. Most visually impaired/ dual sensory people can never afford anything like that. We are desperate for a means of accessing Braille at home that is affordable to everyone regardless of their income. We need refreshable Braille displays which are in the process of being developed in Bristol for about £200 only and which will work with free reading software.
Braille frees the mind and the spirit and if printed material of all kinds was more readily open to us there would be a huge upsurge of interest in learning Braille. There are so few Braille readers simply because even though RNIB does it best there is such a major shortage of Braille titles available and most of them are now old. Braille can be far more than just something to use for the quick shopping list. It has the potential to open up the world and to let the imagination roam where it will. To boldly go where no blind readers have gone before. To have freedom of choice the same as any sighted reader. I want to be able to read in Braille what I want when I want and where I want. That is my dream.