When Linda Rye's vision dropped off a few years ago she learned Braille. Braille is the tactile reading code used by people with blindness.
I love it, enthuses Linda Rye.
I cannot imagine why everybody else, even those who are not with a visual disability, don't do it. It's fantastic. It's like learning another language.
Braille teacher Jordie Howl offers hands-on training. She stresses the importance of Braille as a means of helping those with blindness to read. She says it offers a direct sense of how words are spelt by feeling raised dots beneath a person's fingers.
You can label items independently but also read documents independently, says Jordie. It is a useful editing tool for texts as you can sense the amount of punctuation. You can also sense whether there are too many spaces between words.
The Braille reading system was developed by Louis Braille in the early 19th century. It features units of six raised dots in two vertical columns called cells. These are arranged in various combinations to form letters numbers and other symbols. To begin with it may seem like trying to make sense out of a poppy seed roll.
Students learn Grade 1 Braille that represents the alphabet. This equips students to read labels and simple documents. Grade 1 Braille usually takes around six months.
Grade 2 Braille features combinations of cells that are a kind of shorthand for longer words. For example the letters AFN may represent the word
afternoon. Learning words may enable students to then handle complete books. Grade 2 Braille may take at least two years of study.
Speakers with blindness can use these dots for notes to aid communication and fluency. If students are fluent in Braille they can even read complete texts aloud.
There are symbols for maths along with science and music.
Braille and building confidence
Correspondence student Linda Rye has learned Braille using a CD. She is passionate about learning.
It gives you this self reassurance that you can do this.
She says that Braille is a mental exercise. It gives her the self esteem to take on other challenges like volunteering.
Linda stresses the importance of practising each day. She says that learning Braille was easy because she stuck to practising it every day.
For Marret Corby learning Braille has increased her confidence.
It's increased my confidence that I can learn another skill. says Marret Corby. Her early challenge was not to allow her mind to race ahead and second-guess her fingers.
It is quite different learning to listen to your fingers. But don't be frightened of it because it doesn't bite, assures Marret.
Any new skill you learn is slow but speed will develop.
Prapath Witkramanayake is studying the Braille alphabet in face-to-face lessons. He is positive about the learning experience.
For me it's been a real worthwhile experience thus far and I don't see why other people wouldn't benefit from the use of Braille.
Another positive is that you can even read Braille books under blankets or during a power cut.
Braille and technology
Braille can be slow and expensive to produce. But computer software can speed up the production of Braille. Braille displays can be connected to personal computers. This means you don't need to lug home several massive volumes of one book.
Braille teacher Jordie Howl knows first hand the personal frustration of taking the wrong volumes home.
Sometimes I've got to the end of one volume and think 'Oh no, I didn't bring home the right volume'.
Jordie says computer voices read text fast but believes it's best to have both Braille too for greatest access to print information.
Braille training is also available for sighted people to help people with blindness.
My own Braille training took me as far as reading labels. I just didn't practice enough.