In honor of January being Braille literacy month, we were lucky enough to sit down with one of our staff at WISE Angela Dirk, who’s mother is sight-impaired. Angela shares her experience of growing up around Braille, and some of the new technologies around empowering those with sight impairment.

But first, What is Braille?

Braille is a system of raised dots that can be read with the fingers by people who are blind or who have low vision. Teachers, parents, and others who are not visually impaired ordinarily read braille with their eyes. Braille is not a language. Rather, it is a code by which many languages—such as English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and dozens of others—may be written and read. Braille is used by thousands of people all over the world in their native languages, and provides a means of literacy for all. (source)

Two women on a zoom call. The woman on the right is wearing a black blouse and has short blonde curly hair. The woman on the left has a blurred background and is wearing black glasses and a gray sweatshirt.

Click here to watch the full interview

Why is Braille literacy important to you?

Braille literacy goes hand in hand with community advancement, but the impact of how it has impacted me personally. I have this braille book and my mom used to read to me in Braille. It made the moments with her more special, as there is more connection when reading in Braille, as you put your hands on the pages together. 


Tell us more about the connection of reading to someone in Braille

There was a lot more connection my mom and I got out of reading in Braille, and we used to play games together in Braille like Uno and Scrabble that are different – they were more fun in Braille and empowering for her that she could play them without any help. There is also technology that makes Braille more fun, like the technology my mom uses to tag her clothing to know what color something in her closet is so she can put together outfits more easily. Braille empowers her to decide things for herself!


How did you learn Braille?

I didn’t actually learn by touch, when I write her a note, I use my slate and my stylus. When I got married we used a special Braille printer to print her a personal note she could read at the wedding. For private moments like my wedding it was special to have that moment where there was something just for her to enjoy. 


How does your mom get mail, pay her bills, and get around with other daily tasks?

She keeps her iphone close because it has the technology to help her read mail and some statements, but most major banks will send her Braille statements (which is one of the reasons we aren’t with a local credit union). She likes to use the self checkout at Fred Meyer because it talks to her so she feels involved in the process. Social security will also send out documents in Braille. 


Why doesn’t everyone who is blind learn Braille?

There is a big difference between folks who lose their sight and folks who have been blind their entire lives. My mom went to a school for the blind, but a lot of folks just go to public schools now who don’t have the educational resources to learn Braille. There is a different alphabet for Braille and also a short-hand version so it’s a lot to learn. 


 What kind of technology exists to help blind folks read?

There is an addition to the keyboard that you can get where the Braille comes into the bottom of the screen so you can read a webpage through the keyboard. My mom worked as a state employee so it was provided for her so she could work. She also listened to audio of her work to help her along as well as her keyboard. We got some pasta from France and it had some Braille on the side of the packaging, things like that really make us excited for the future. 


Is Braille universal or is there different languages or dialects of Braille?

Luckily it’s universal! Braille really is a tool of empowerment to create independence and also helped me have a deeper connection with my family. We have a really special version of how the Grinch stole Christmas that is very dear to me.