On Giants' Shoulders

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Challenge of Buying Books for Crystal

This past week my niece Amanda and I went searching the internet for sites that sell braille books. Her little sister Crystal has really taken off in reading this year and actually likes to read in bed (a bigger challenge with braille books than small paperbacks, but she has the advantage of not needing the light on - what I wouldn't have given for being able to read in the dark when I was a kid - or even now some nights!). Anyway Crystal is currently working her way through the Little House books, but is also in love with Narnia (which so far she has heard read to her and has listened to the movie -incessantly some people would say...).

Amanda and I wanted to pick out for her the sorts of books that I would have bought for Amanda when she was turning 12 (Crystal's official birthday is coming right up). We discovered two things as we looked. First of all not all of the books we'd like to give her eventually are available in Braille. Secondly when they are a lot of them are tremendously expensive. For example Anne of Green Gables (you know, the one you can get in paperback for probably under $10) is $48 for the Braille edition, Little Women is $40, the full set of the Narnia Chronicles is $128 and change. Obviously buying Crystal multiple titles is much less doable than buying multiple titles for Amanda was.

What I also discovered in talking with Amanda was that a. a lot of teachers and parents are not encouraging blind children to learn Braille, they are expecting them to make do with readers and books on tape. Neither of those options allows blind children to go back and mull over a phrase easily, the way that sighted children can. and b. there is a tremendous shortage of Braille transcribers (and many of the current ones are volunteeers).

It has begun to strike me this summer just how much we take for granted as sighted people and just how much blind people are denied. They aren't denied it out of some deliberate discrimination, and they aren't denied it because of the intrinisic things connected with their disablity. Certainly there are some things blind people can't do: drive a car, fly a plane, pilot a boat, but there are lots of things that they could do, but often aren't able to because of barriers put in their way. While Crystal was here we went to MacDonalds; the girl at the counter noticed that she was blind and offered her a Braille menu. This was a new experience for Crystal, but it needn't have been. Having a braille menu on hand should be no more difficult for chain restaurants than having braille buttons in public elevators is. I realize that not every local restaurant is going to have access to a braille transcriber, but the big chains should be able to provide this. Being able to make your own choices, to mull over the decisions yourself rather than having the infomation communicated to you by someone else is the difference between being independent and being dependent. I am not a big fan of fast food restaurants, but I was really impressed with that cashier.

Blind kids shouldn't have to miss out on books just because they are blind. Blind college students shouldn't be dependent on readers for their text assignments. Braille is an incredible system and more braille books should be made available, not just those that meet the economies of scale. If publishers would put even a small percentage of their profits into producing more of their titles in braille it would make the lives of some very special children, youths, and adults a lot richer. If they would offer those books for prices even close to comparable with regular print books they would encourage sighted friends of the blind to buy their print books in appreciation.

By the way, Amanda and I were dismayed at some of what was available and I'm sure that it reflects our particular biases. However, it was disturbing that Mary Kate and Ashley books were available, but we couldn't find Emily of New Moon, or Meet the Austins, or even Adventures in Odyssey (Crystal is a huge fan of the Odyssey radio program). Oh well, we found a large enough list to last us for awhile, but it certainly made us rant over the unfairness of it all.

Interestingly, Crystal's reading is hampered far more by the fact that she occasionally (although less and less frequently all the time) encounters English words she doesn't know, than it is by the fact that she's actually been really reading Braille for less than three years. How many sighted kids do you know who are reading On the Banks of Plum Creek in their second language after three years of reading instruction? Her vocabulary, her grasp of English sentence structure, and even her reading fluency actually surpasses most of the kids her age in her Sunday School. Have I ever mentioned what an incredible kid she is? I'm sure I have. Anyway you can see why we were getting a bit perturbed that it was going to cost so much and be so difficult to get Anne of Green Gables for this inspiring almost 12 year old.


At 7:36 PM, Blogger shenyuen said...

how do you always have just the right words?


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