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This Mattered to Me

"Increasing the Braille Reading Rate," by Emerson Foulke, published in the October 1979 issue of the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, Volume 73, Number 8, pp. 318-323.

Sunggye Hong

Print edition page number(s) 247-248

The series editor of "This Mattered to Me" is Stuart H. Wittenstein, Ed.D., superintendent of the California School for the Blind.

Although I have been a braille user for a long time, it was not until I began my doctoral program at the University of Arizona that I could examine the technical aspects of braille, including its acquisition, instruction, and construction. My dissertation topic, which was directly related to instructional braille methods, provided me with many opportunities to study and gain a deeper understanding of braille.

My personal interests as well as my professional inquiries combined to prompt me to search for ways in which braille reading speed could be improved, but there were very few studies aimed at increasing braille reading speed. Furthermore, it was very difficult to comprehend the complex perspectives of the topic, recognizing that numerous factors would be associated with the query. An article by Emerson Foulke about increasing braille reading speed gave me the framework in which to approach the topic.

The article I chose to highlight in this essay was one of the first to summarize the findings of previous studies on increasing the speed of braille reading and offer practical applications. By contrasting the differences between visual and tactual reading, Foulke viewed braille not simply as a code, but as a tool to facilitate reading for people with visual impairments. More important, Foulke suggested ways in which the theories outlined in the articles he summarized could be implemented in practice.

Foulke's view of braille

Foulke saw reading behaviors and perceptual ability of readers as two of the biggest obstacles to increasing braille reading speed. It is not surprising to modern readers that the importance of proper hand movements, appropriate mechanical skills, and constant and fluid touch skills have been regarded as crucial factors in braille reading. Perceptual ability relates to potential modifications of ways in which braille text is being displayed. Foulke also perceived that using all fingers in the braille reading process would assist in improving reading speed. Furthermore, he proposed alternative methods of presenting braille characters, such as presenting braille characters in columns. Foulke examined changing the braille code as a viable option for improving the system and outlined a blueprint for making modifications to it.

Since 1979, much has changed. There are now more people with visual impairments whose needs for braille are functional. Many assistive technology devices have been developed, and these function as integral parts of the lives of people with visual impairments. Some of these devices facilitate the use of braille. Energetic discussions are taking place about improvements to the integrity of the braille code that will fulfill additional demands of society and people with visual impairments. In spite of these changes, we members of the field of visual impairment and blindness are charged with a very important assignment. We need to put more effort into helping children and adults who are braille readers by providing them with theoretically sound instruction, and we need to study alternative and scientific methods for increasing braille reading speed. It is arguably true that no one method has dramatically increased the braille reading speed of people with visual impairments. However, this fact is not a justifiable reason for failing to explore this topic further.

Braille's place in current society

The year 2009 marks the bicentennial of the birth of braille's inventor, Louis Braille. Although some people may say that braille is obsolete in this high-technology era, pen and paper still have strong value to people who are sighted. Even with the advance of computers and technology devices, braille will continue to be a significant tool for people with visual impairments. In developing and devising instructional strategies, especially in the area of increasing reading speed, Emerson Foulke's article provides guidelines for addressing one of the most important aspects of braille. I hope that this article, which I revere greatly, will inspire and provide ideas for the readers of this journal, just as it did for me.

On the web
The article relating to this commentary is available free to subscribers at JVIB Online: <>. Nonsubscribers may purchase a copy of the article from the JVIB Classics area of AFB's ePublications web site: <>.

Sunggye Hong, Ph.D., assistant professor, San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94132; e-mail: <>.

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The Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness (JVIB)--the international, interdisciplinary journal of record on blindness and visual impairment that publishes research and practice
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