British Columbia

Braille is the answer to large unemployment numbers in blind community, says advocate

A recent report from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind finds more than 70 per cent of working-age blind or partially-sighted people in Canada are unemployed.

'Technology is certainly giving us more access to braille, not less'

Braille has traditionally been written with embossed paper. But now braille users can read computer screens and other electronic devices using refreshable braille displays. ((iStock))

A recent report from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind finds more than 70 per cent of working-age blind or partially-sighted people in Canada are unemployed. 

The report says the key to getting more blind people into the workplace is braille, a tactile form of writing and reading for those who are visually impaired.

Albert Ruel, an advisor to the Canadian Council of the Blind, agrees. 

"Braille is literacy, freedom ... independence,"Ruel told On the Coast host Gloria Macarenko. 

Bringing braille back

While braille is being used less, due to technological innovations in speech recognition and screen reader software, Ruel says braille is faster, more efficient and the key to literacy among visually impaired individuals.

He says braille frees your ears and your mouth in a meeting or lecture. It allows you to work faster, read a chart or a spreadsheet, take notes, work independently and listen and read at the same time. According to the Canadian Institute for the Blind's website, those who know braille are more likely to be employed than those who rely on voice synthesizers for those very reasons.

But more employers need to give visually-impaired individuals the opportunity to work, says Ruel.

"It's very difficult to find the willingness of employers to take a chance on someone. The crazy thing about it is we think because most everything we do during the day is visual, if we lose the access to the visual information around us, we lose access to independence and work," said Ruel. 

Devices such as the Braille Sense use a refreshable braille display to allow people to read electronic documents without the use of text-to-voice. (HIMS Lifestyle Innovation)

Braille has traditionally been written with embossed — or raised — paper. But now, braille users can read computer screens and other electronic devices using refreshable braille displays, an electro-mechanical device that communicates computer text with braille characters. 

While less people are using paper braille, Ruel is hoping there will be a resurgence in braille use due to refreshable braille displays and other braille technology. 

"Technology is certainly giving us more access to braille, not less," said Ruel. 

While many refreshable braille displays can be between $4,000 and $6,000, Ruel says that more compact refreshable braille displays will be on the market soon at under $1,000. 

"They're finally starting to come down to a price where many folks will be able to afford them."

Listen to the full interview here:

With files from On the Coast


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