Whenever I’m in an elevator, I take note of whether or not the button numbers are printed in Braille. Not entirely sure why, but I’ve always thought Braille was a brilliant invention—simple, intuitive, and oh-so-useful. And it’s got such a cool backstory, with its roots in 19th-century French spycraft.
But according to a recent report from the National Federation of the Blind, Braille is on its way out:
Fewer than 10 percent of the 1.3 million legally blind Americans read Braille, the system of raised dots that has represented the alphabet to the visually impaired for almost two centuries. Moreover, just 10 percent of visually impaired children are learning the system compared with more than 50 percent during its heyday in the 1950s.
There’s been a lot of handwringing over this decline, with much of the blame ascribed to a lack of trained instructors. But for all of Braille’s brilliance, perhaps its time has simply come. You have to think those million-plus blind Americans aren’t necessarily clamoring for Braille knowledge, but rather just grew up in the age of the audiobook and, perhaps, Dragon Naturally Speaking. The question is, what’s cheaper to produce—an audiobook or a Braille book? I’m guessing the former. And since audiobooks also appeal to the sighted, the choice is a no-brainer for publishers.
For all the good it’s done for millions, perhaps Braille is a technology that’s about to gently fade into that good night. Which leaves Microkhan with a question: Is there an equivalent technology that could someday dinosaur American sign language? Perhaps there’s an iPhone app out there that’s started the process.