Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Independent Living Without Sight and Hearing

Yesterday I read a book called "Independent Living Without Sight and Hearing." It was written by Richard Kinney and was published in the 1970's. While reading this book, it really hit me how much technology has really changed the lives of deafblind people within the last thirty years.

In Mr. Kinney's day, there was no way for a person who was blind as well as deaf to use the phone. You couldn't access a TTY for sighted deaf if your couldn't read print. In his book he mentions a couple of devices for using the phone with someone who knew Morse Code. These devices were called the Tactaphone and the Sensicall. They were attached to a phone and the hearing caller could tap out messages in Morse Code which were felt as vibrations by the deafblind person on the other end. If the deafblind person could voice they could speak back. Reading about the lengths a person who was deafblind went through just to place a simple phone call, made me so thankful for my iPhone and braille display.

In the book he also mentioned that the
<"National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped">
had 10,000 braille books available for loan.
10,000 books sounds like a lot... at first... But if you really think about it, and compare it to what sighted/hearing people have, it is only a drop in the bucket. If you had special interests, such as growing carnivorous plants, you were basically out of luck. If you were Christian, there were several charities which would provide you with religious material in braille. There is even a Jewish Braille Institute which provided materials, however if you were another religion, you couldn't get any material easily available in braille.

Today we have
which has, at last estimate, over 125,000 books. The content is largely user driven, so if you are interested in a particular title, or area of interest, you can scan books for the collection, or have a friend do it for you. There are books on almost every topic you can think of. There are sacred texts from many different religions from around the world. There are fiction books, cook books, self-help books, and text books for school. If you have a braille display and a computer or smartphone, or a note-taking device specially designed for the blind and deafblind, you can read. What's more, you can keep the books you like. Braille is three times the size of print. As an example, the first book in the Harry Potter series takes up four volumes in hardcopy braille. I think the book is somewhere in the range of 300 pages.

If I kept every book I loved and wanted to reread or own in hardcopy braille, I would need entire building devoted to housing my book collection. While something like this sounds like the closest thing to heaven on earth, to a bibliophile like myself, it is not financially feasible at this time.

Thanks to technology, I can keep copies of books on a jump drive to be read later. I can keep reference books, and cook books. My braille display weighs 2 pounds whether its hard drive is full of books or not.
Mr. Kinney's book also goes into great detail about the communication methods used by deafblind people during this time period. Although most DB people were using
<"The Rochester Method">
Which was made most famous by Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan. It is the one-handed American Manual Alphabet-- the same one used today. This book does not discuss the use of ASL or other signed languages at all.

It does discuss the use of morse code and the British Two-Handed Manual Alphabet. This Alphabet is still in use today around the world, by deafblind people from Canada to Scotland. The books gives very detailed descriptions of all three types of communication. I have always wanted to learn the British Two-Handed Manual Alphabet so that I may more easily chat with DB people from other parts of the world. I already know the One-Handed Manual Alphabet but I don't know Morse code and I think it might be interesting to learn so I have it in my "communication tool box."
Although much of the information is out-dated, this book was still a fascinating read. It really brought home to me how blessed I am to be a DB person living in this current time. I have access to information at my fingertips and on demand. I can call a taxi, read a recipe for curry chicken, or place an order for new shoes by myself. I have frequently heard some people say that technology cuts people off from one another. This may be true to some extent. However for a deafblind person, I believe the opposite is true.

1 comment:

  1. Most of my friends know that I hate technology and I always joke that I am technologically challenged, but to be honest, I agree with you. Living now with all of this assistive technology makes life so much easier and enjoyable.