The Blind Pleading the Blind: Reading (Part 1)

One of my hobbies is reading. It has been from childhood, so let’s think about reading without your eyesight. Some people can read large print. They might use magnifying glasses, or CCTVs (close circuit televisions) where the page of printed text is placed under a contraption and magnified on its screen, but if you can only see light and dark (like me), large print is no use to you.

I was at primary school in the nineteen eighties when if you couldn’t read print, you learnt Braille. Considering eighty percent of people lose their sight later in life, should they learn Braille or shouldn’t they? If you’ve been a bricklayer or even a guitarist all your working life, you may not have the sensitivity in your fingers to be able to learn it by touch, but many people can – and do. There is an alternative to Braille called Moon, invented in the nineteenth century by the Englishman Dr. William Moon, who lost his vision due to scarlet fever. (I’ve been told Moon is just raised-up print letters, but an H in Moon is nothing like the print letter H!)

Braille was invented by a Frenchman, Louis Braille, which explains why the letter W is out of sequence (there’s no W in the French alphabet). There are 2 types of Braille – grade 1 (where the words are written letter by letter), and grade 2 (where certain letters are joined together – er, ar, ing or ed, for example). If you want to read Braille quickly and proficiently, grade 2 would be your best option, but as RNIB points out, even learning uncontracted Braille opens the door to things like playing cards. I’ve played lots of games with my family; my Braille Scrabble is still a favourite. You can take courses in grades 1 and 2 Braille whether you’re blind or sighted. A sighted person might use it to support someone who’s blind or to proofread Braille books.

If you’re a musician, did you know Braille music is vastly different to the music a sighted person would read? For instance, a C quaver is the Braille letter D. (Why it couldn’t be C, I have no idea!) You add a dot 6 to make it a crotchet, or a dot 3 for a minim. I’d call Braille music incredibly difficult. Also, I read Braille with my left hand. I discovered this when I tried to read with my right and play with my left. I remember how surprised I was that I couldn’t do it!

When I was a child, I joined what was then the National Library for the Blind. They sent a catalogue every so often (when I was smaller, they’d send a print one for my parents) and we’d choose my books. It’s now merged with RNIB and you can find the catalogue of books on their website. You can also find various Christian titles in Braille, large print and audio at Torch Trust.

There’s much more to say about reading. Will you join me for part 2?

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