On January 4, we celebrate World Braille Day, and I’m excited to share all of the reasons we celebrate each year.
As the Executive Director of the Florida Lions Conklin Center for the Blind in Daytona Beach, we are the only organization in the country that exclusively serves clients who are blind with an additional disability, such as being blind and deaf, blind with brain injury, blind with an intellectual disability, and blind with cerebral palsy. We help our clients get ready for the workforce, and teaching them Braille is an important first step.
Braille is an old system; its developer, Louis Braille, was born in France in 1809. But his system of using fingertips to read raised patterns of dots still has a critical place in our increasingly technological world. While we have audio books that speak stories out loud to us; Siri who searches the Internet for us and reads our texts to us, these shortcuts aren’t enough – the knowledge of Braille provides an indispensable advantage in navigating our world.
Why? Literacy. Learning Braille is as fundamental to a blind person as learning to read is to a sighted person. Research has shown a strong connection between knowledge of Braille and vocational success. It matters if I am almost anybody in the economy that I can write something that’s spelled correctly, punctuated properly and grammatically correct. Sighted people don’t realize how much their ability to write is reinforced by constant reading and often take that essential skillset for granted. Braille readers earn their success through lots of intentional practice.
Our aim for our clients is that they leave us ready to enter the workforce – from handling stock in retail stores and working in restaurants to working in an assembly line in an industrial setting and working in customer service.
For years, we were very frustrated that our clients couldn’t accumulate savings from their efforts because they couldn’t jeopardize losing federal disability benefits. That’s why we are advocates of the ABLE United program, which allows our clients to save their earnings in a way that helps them achieve their life goals.
At the Conklin Center, our desire is to help our clients live the life they desire to live. Braille education is one tool we use to achieve this goal. ABLE United is another. Our hope for you is that you find all the tools you need to achieve your dreams, too.
Robert Kelly is the executive director of the Florida Lions Conklin Center for the Blind in Daytona Beach.