In 1960, more than half of blind students could read and write Braille. But today, fewer than 10% of visually disabled Americans can, the Los Angeles Times reports.
This may come as a shock to many sighted people, who see Braille everywhere. But the Braille dots on parking meters, bathroom signs and ATMs were already illegible to most blind Americans when the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 put them there.
This steep decline in tactile literacy has spurred the Braille Institute, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit serving blind and low-vision people, to launch its Braille Challenge in 2000.
Today blindness remains such a profound disadvantage that it can push even bright, privileged students to the bottom of the academic world. Visually disabled students finish high school at less than half the rate of non-disabled children, and even those who graduate from college have a much harder time finding work than their sighted peers. In California, only English learners, homeless children and foster youth fall behind them.
This is why the Braille Challenge forged ahead with its 2020 finals when other academic championships — like the Scripps National Spelling Bee — were canceled. While homeless and foster youth face complex challenges, the ones facing blind children are simple. Many experts believe it’s not privilege or grit that separates those who succeed from those who struggle — it’s Braille.
Yet today, only 16% of students who could learn Braille actually do.
The Braille Challenge helps bolster the “free appropriate public education” guaranteed to all kids under the law, but rarely delivered to blind students.