Is braille obsolete?

My grandmother used to translate books into braille, and I used to play around with her typewriter. Being a) at a time in my life when I’d like to do something nice for people, and b) an obsessive reader, I thought that enabling blind people to read would be a good thing to do in some of my spare time.

However, even given the omnipresent dots on signs these days, I have no idea if people actually use braille for more than finding the appropriate restroom, especially considering the voice software around now.

Would someone actually sit down and read a book in braille today, or is it obsolete?

These people, The Braille Library, seem to serve a lot of people so there must be a market.

While Braille is still a long way from obsolete, blind people with money and resources increasingly find it’s not the best way to go.

A blind friend of mine says that nowadays, he can easily load the equivalent of 5 or 6 novels into his laptop, and the audio software makes it much easier for him to listen to what he needs to learn than it would be to read a Braille text that takes up a huge amount of space.

He expects that, before long, he’ll be able to do the same with something the size of an iPod. That’s a lot less hassle than lugging around massive books in Braille.

He can’t do that with an ipod yet?

Braille must be used for other reasons than just making books for blind people. Labels on medication bottles, at least. I can’t think of anything else, someone give me a hand here.

Lots of people listen to audio-books in their iPods, but those are all recorded via a human reader. iPods don’t have text-to-speech software on them, but there’s no particular reason they couldn’t.

There is no text to mp3 software?

I’d suggest looking at participating in Distributed Proofreading (see

This group uses volunteers to proofread pages of scanned books, and turn them into electronic books for the free Project Gutenberg website ( To participate, you just view a scanned page on the top half of your screen, and the OCR’d text on the bottom half, and proofread it and correct the text. You can do as many or as few pages as you want, whenever you want. (They encourage you to do “a page a day”.) Thousands of volunteers participate, and they currently process about 1 page every 5 seconds. Each month, they add about 100-125 books into the Project Gutenberg library.

All the work done here benefits anybody who might want to read a book online, either now or in future generations. And that includes a whole lot of blind people, who find ‘reading’ a book via online audio very effective.

Check it out!

There are a number of text-to-speech offerings for various flavours of PDA - certainly three that I know of for PalmOS. They’re not very good yet and the problem for a person with sight impairment would be operating the PDA in order to launch the software - AFAIK, there’s nowhere near the level of accessibility on such devices as there is on, say, a Windows PC.

I have a friend who is blind- he was doing a degree, and none of the textbooks came in braille, so he had his friends from his course scan the sections he needed into his computer, and then used a braille printer to bring the relevant sections to the library. He found that more convenient and quicker than using voice software or audio tapes, as he could find what he wanted more easily on the pages.

While audio might be best for books enjoyed for pleasure, when it comes to trying to get the most out of a 5000 page technical manual, it leaves a lot to be desired. he did use adio to take “notes” during lectures with a dictaphone, but I think he preferred the tangibility of braille.

He also used braille to type up his thesis and presentations, and then had someone translate it- it was easier for him to do this, because voice recognition software would often leave him with typos, took longer and was harder to review what he had written.

At least, that’s his opinion and the reason he gave for using braille when he did.

And, of course, people who are deaf as well as blind have a great deal of trouble using audio books…

Braille isn’t as important as it used to be, but it’s far from going the way of the dodo.

Old Pat McCormick joke:

On my way home last night I drove right by the Braille Center. They must have been working late, because all the lights were off.