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Braille still as vital as ever, insists Dunoon man with sight loss

Braille, the system of raised dots that has enabled blind people to read and write, is as vital as ever, despite the advances of new technology, says Scotland's leading sight loss charity.

Today marks the anniversary of the birth of its inventor Louis Braille (1809-52), the Frenchman who himself became blind at the age of four. The braille system is based on six raised dots, arranged in two columns of three. Variations of the six dots represent the letters of the alphabet, punctuation and groups of letters.

Ryan Shoemake (48) from Dunoon has been visually impaired since birth. "I learnt braille seven years ago," he says, "because it makes my life easier. I read books in braille as well as bills, bank-statements and prescriptions. New technology also allows me to use braille on my phone and my laptop.

"I hope that young people who are visually impaired will continue to learn braille. Because reading and writing in braille is active, rather than passively listening to audio, it teaches you how to spell and gives you a better education. Braille gives you the same versatility that print does to a sighted person."

Today, modern braille-writing equipment can connect seamlessly with personal computers, tablets and smartphones. An electronic braille-reader contains thin metal pins that can rapidly move up and down to realign into different braille cells. It means that young people with sight loss still value braille, too, despite being born into a digital age where audio-books and speech-reading software are commonplace.

Nicola McCrory (17) from Blantyre says: "I use braille on a daily basis for class work and I can send and receive emails. I do like using braille because a lot of word and letter combinations are contracted so it's quicker to type."

Ross O'Malley (32) from Dalkeith has used braille since the age of . "I used it to read books and to do my exams in school," he says, "and now I use it at work to read what's on the computer screen and take notes and messages. Even though more and more new technology is being introduced, braille will always be my first method of communication as I find it easier than any other."

Bilal Iqbal (27) from Livingston agrees. "I find it more convenient and easier than other forms of communication because it means that if I'm given lots of information about something I have it in front of me to read. The advantage is I can refer back to anything I might forget. I hope braille will continue to be used as this is the only way people who are registered blind can read, and gives people the chance to continue to use the braille skills they have learned."

James Adams, director of RNIB Scotland, said: “The invention of braille is often compared to the invention of the printing press for sighted people. For thousands across the world, braille means independence, knowledge and freedom.

"Braille also lets you read out loud - a bedtime story to children, a presentation at work, sing in a choir from braille music sheets, or play games such as Monopoly, Scrabble and cards where there are braille versions available."

RNIB has 10,900 braille library master-files it can produce a book from. Readers can request a printed-off braille copy, download a title from RNIB's reading services platform, or buy a SD card with thousands of braille files available on it. The most popular authors requested this year include J K Rowling, Anna Jacobs, Richard Osman, Lee Child, Elly Griffiths and Maeve Binchy.

The RNIB library also has over 2,451 electronic master-files for braille music scores and various maths and science books and codes, as well as maps. RNIB also transcribes magazines into braille - TV guides are the most popular.