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How To Be An Ally For Braille Users: World Braille Day 2021

Today (4 January 2021) is World Braille Day, a day that commemorates Louis Braille’s birthday and that celebrates the tactile system for reading and writing that he created that is used by people who are blind or visually impaired from all around the world. While this is a special day to recognize the importance of accessible information, it may seem difficult to figure out where to start when advocating for Braille users, and how to advocate without speaking over people who use Braille every day. Here are my tips for positive ways that people of all sight levels can be an ally for people who use Braille and more broadly for people who are blind, low vision, or otherwise visually impaired, in honor of World Braille Day 2021. This is by no means an all-encompassing guide to the issues that Braille users face, rather it is a list of simple ways that users can support Braille readers online and offline.

Learn what Braille is and how it is used

Did you know that Braille is not a language, but a code? Have you ever wondered why there is Braille on drive-up ATMs? How do people read music in Braille? My post for World Braille Day 2019 answers all of these questions and more, and helps to correct a lot of incorrect assumptions that people have about using Braille. When advocating for Braille, it’s important to know how it is actually used and avoid spreading incorrect information that can become more difficult to correct later.

Related links

Prioritize Braille literacy for students with vision loss

Braille literacy has been declining in recent years due to advances in screen reader technology and the use of portable devices. Because of this, many students with vision loss have not learned Braille as they believe (or their parents/teachers believe) it is old-fashioned or not useful for them. However, Braille is still very important to learn, and just as important as print. Technology won’t always be around to read information, so students need to learn how to access it themselves- learning Braille continues to be the best way to do this. Students and parents can advocate for Braille education in the school settings during IEP or 504 plan meetings, or they can ask the Teacher of the Visually Impaired for additional recommendations.

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Advocate for Braille and accessible menus in restaurants

A common issue that people who use Braille or that can’t read small print encounter is a lack of accessible menus in restaurants. I have only seen a Braille menu at two restaurants and a large print menu at one restaurant, though I have encountered countless menus that were difficult to read online or in-person due to poor contrast, an inability to magnify text, or no compatibility with screen readers. I’m sharing a link to a recent article I read on how Braille menus are being designed to be easily disinfected, but one of the most important things that allies can do to help with this issue is to request that online menus are designed with screen reader users in mind, which includes displaying menus that are written out in text (not a screenshot or image of text), using headings to organize sections, and adding alt text to images of food.

Learn more about assistive technology and how it is used

If someone uses Braille, they almost definitely use assistive technology in their day-to-day life. Assistive technology is legally defined as “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.” By this definition, Braille by itself is not technically considered assistive technology, but Braille can be used as part of assistive technology in the form of Braille computers, smartwatches, labels, and more. In order to better understand how Braille users and people with vision loss complete various tasks, having a general understanding of assistive technology can be incredibly helpful. I’m linking to a few of my favorite posts on assistive technology for low vision below.

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Add alt text and image descriptions to media content

How does a Braille user know what is in an image? Alt text and image descriptions are written descriptions of what is in an image that are read out loud by a screen reader or displayed on a Braille display. While there are some tools that can automatically generate alt text or image descriptions, most alt text needs to be manually added to an image or other content, or else the item will seem invisible or have the not-helpful description of “image” for people who use assistive technology. One of the easiest ways that people can help Braille users is by learning how to add alt text and image descriptions to web content and social media so that the internet can be a more accessible place for everyone.

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Make transcripts and screenplays available for everyone

How does making transcripts and screenplays available for things like podcasts, movies, and TV shows help people who use Braille? For people who have dual vision and hearing loss (also known as deafblindness), reading transcripts and screenplays that contain written dialogue and visual descriptions with a Braille display can be incredibly helpful for people who want to follow the latest releases or talk about a podcast with their friends. For content that already has audio description, it can be helpful to add the audio description to a transcript as well for people who benefit from the additional description.

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Listen to people who use Braille in their daily life

For reasons related to my brain condition, I don’t use Braille in my daily life, but I have lots of friends who do. One of the most valuable ways that users can help advocate for Braille users is to listen to them when it comes to learning about issues related to Braille and Braille accessibility, and be an ally in spreading awareness about various topics. This can include:

  • Following people on social media
  • Watching videos created by Braille users on video sharing websites
  • Signing petitions to help with Braille access
  • Amplifying messages on social media related to Braille access
  • Involving people who use Braille in product testing processes

Related links

Summary of ways to be an ally for Braille users for World Braille Day 2021

  • Learn what Braille is and how it is used by reading the post “Ten Fun Facts About Braille For World Braille Day 2019”
  • Prioritize Braille literacy for students with vision loss so that they can access information without the use of technology
  • Advocate for Braille and accessible menus in restaurants so that users can read menus independently
  • Learn more about assistive technology and how it is used by people with vision loss to access information
  • Add alt text and image descriptions to media content so it can be read by screen readers
  • Make transcripts of audio and video content available for everyone so that deafblind users can read this information
  • Listen to people who use Braille in their daily life and ask them for ways you can be an ally

How To Be An Ally For Braille Users: World Braille Day 2021. How to be an ally for Braille users in honor of World Braille Day 2021 and educate yourself and others about simple ways to support Braille users online and offline