Spartanburg, S.C. – With the launch of BrailleSC.org, a new scholarly resource in the field of braille literacy is now online. BrailleSC starts at the level of the personal, providing a venue for people of all ages to tell their own stories of braille and braille literacy. The site offers individuals an opportunity to see and hear contributors describe first-hand what braille means to them and how they use it in everyday life. In addition, easy-to-understand materials to help teach and learn braille are provided for teachers, parents, and anyone who needs tips.
Often braille literacy is viewed purely in institutionally practical terms–how it will be used in school or at work–but braille is truly much more important than this. Each and every day, sighted readers rely upon printed visual materials for a variety of reasons, whether it’s getting from place to place, consulting a recipe to make a cake, catching up on the news, organizing a CD collection, or reading favorite books from the library. Braille literacy allows readers who are blind or otherwise visually impaired to experience all of these as well. The oral histories on BrailleSC.org will reflect a wide range of personal experiences and demonstrate that braille is not just for employment or for education; it’s for everything.
In addition to the oral histories, this online resource includes pedagogical materials to assist teachers in developing best practices in braille instruction, strategies for using braille in everyday life, and resources for families, stressing the importance of braille literacy and the methods of encouraging braille literacy.
BrailleSC is just one of the projects being funded with The Possibilities Are Endless: Promoting Braille Throughout South Carolina grant that the University of South Carolina Upstate’s School of Education received from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services from the United States Department of Education last year.
“The development of BrailleSC has been an amazing year-long journey of research and collaboration,” said Dr. Tina Herzberg, who serves as the project director and is assistant professor and director of the Special Education–Visual Impairment program at USC Upstate. “Now that the site is live, we hope that individuals across the state and beyond will find the stories, games, and learning tools informative and fun.”
The content is obviously an important part of the project, but equally important is the task of making the content available in a format accessible to users who are visually impaired. To accomplish that task, project members are developing accessibility tools–built right into the web site–to overcome many of the web design problems that often frustrate users who are visually impaired. In partnership with the Center for Digital Humanities in Columbia, SC, and with guidance from George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media, the site models the ways in which digital humanities projects can be designed and implemented with the needs of visually impaired users in mind.
Braille SC combines the expertise of faculty and students from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds. According to Cory Bohon, a USC Upstate student majoring in Computer and Information Systems and web developer for the site, “The BrailleSC project along with Dr. George Williams’ Look Listen Touch project has helped me learn things that would not normally be in the prescribed course work for my major. The project is an infusion of computer programming, digital humanities, and education. Besides gaining valuable computer programming skills, I have also been able to introduce myself to accessible web site design that is implemented across the entire BrailleSC.org site.”
“As an eighteenth-century studies scholar, I’ve long been interested in the ways that the English speaking world was transformed by reading and writing, combined with the widespread availability of print,” said Dr. George Williams, coordinator of digital resources for the project and assistant professor of English at USC Upstate. “And as someone trained in the field of digital humanities, I’m curious about what is happening to reading and writing as new tools for language and literature emerge. We have an opportunity to ensure that these new tools do not exclude users because of their disabilities, and that’s a big part of the design philosophy behind our site.”
Williams adds, “Also, braille is just really cool. Literate sighted people are accustomed to using two of their senses to experience language: seeing and hearing. A person who is literate in braille, however, uses touch in a way that most sighted users would have a very hard time doing without a great deal of practice. Braille literacy is not some kind of second-class literacy that can’t compare with sighted literacy. Rather, it’s an equal but fundamentally different kind of literacy. And that’s fascinating.”
The collaborators hope to make a world of difference by allowing individuals who are blind or visually impaired to be able to find others who have faced the same challenges and learn about the ways those challenges were met. Additionally most sighted people are unaware of anything beyond the most basic details of braille, and this online project will allow these individuals to learn a great deal about its importance. And finally, students and scholars in the fields of history, education, and writing studies will find this a rich collection of primary source material for research and teaching.