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Braille translator’s fight for independence

Sam and Danny Noonan sit outside with their dogs, a white and brown Labrador.  A braille teacher says evolving technology is causing a decline in literacy among people who are vision-impaired, prompting her to bring the tactile language into the mainstream.

Sam Noonan is encouraging businesses to incorporate braille as part of their printed documents.  She says as technology evolves, literacy skills among vision-impaired people are declining.  NDIS funding has spiked interest in braille teaching and translation services.  Sam Noonan has a Bachelor of Arts in literature, script writing and performance and is now using her skills to maintain and promote braille translations in society through her own business.

She said while technology such as text-to-voice has its benefits, it is not a perfect substitute for reading.  “There’s a big problem with braille literacy, and if you’re relying on speech to read things, you don’t always get the punctuation, grammar and nuances of physically sitting and reading the book,” Ms Noonan said.

“A lot of blind kids are not great spellers. It’s just that brain connection if you can write something down and read it back.”

She is now advocating for businesses to include braille options for things like business cards, flyers and menus to provide independence and empowerment to people who cannot read them with their eyes.

“It gives more access to the normal things in life,” she said.  “By incorporating braille, you are acknowledging a vision-impaired customer’s right to the same information as any of your other customers and respecting the tenet of social inclusion.”

Sam Noonan is encouraging businesses to incorporate more braille options.

NDIS funding opens door for braille services

Sam Noonan’s husband, Danny, is also legally blind and, while he can read braille, he consumes most of his novels via audiobooks.  He was taught braille by his brother, who is also blind, and said it was a skill that needed to start early in a child’s life as they developed knowledge of shapes and how they feel.

“Now with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), if people want to get things transcribed, they have some funding to help do that, so it’s something that will hopefully be growing,” he said.  “There’s a lot of hours involved in it though, it’s not like getting photos printed.”

Ms Noonan is one of the country’s few private braille teachers and she said, since the NDIS was introduced, she had seen an increase in enquiries.

“People have been coming and asking to learn braille and that says, despite technology, they consider it important to read and write it.”

Braille translation and typing has evolved with technology since the days of the Perkins Brailler, which was first produced in 1951.  While text-to-voice functions were common on computers and phones, Ms Noonan said that only provided some of the reading experience.  A braille reading can provide useful detail that also promotes literacy skills.  “It’s valuable seeing how things are laid out, and it’s like with print and technology — if kids aren’t reading as much with a physical book, it’s the same with the vision-impaired kids.  “My husband reads more than me but he listens to them, so he has read a lot more but doesn’t get how things are laid out.

“If you’re a reader, you want to read it.”

ABC Illawarra (Australia),  By Justin Huntsdale
Posted 16 Jul 2019, 9:59pm