Braille is essential for literacy among blind people. Despite its simplicity and utility, however, braille is taught to a woefully small percentage of blind children and adults, and debates surround whether or not blind kids with some usable vision, as well as adults who lose vision later in life, should learn braille. Research on the long-term benefits of learning braille is lacking. Just this week, the Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research published results of a study I conducted in graduate school, showing a direct correlation between early braille learning and overall well-being for blind adults. The bottom line? People who learn braille as children are most satisfied with their lives as adults, compared to people who learn braille later or not at all; and people who learn braille later in life are more satisfied with their lives than those who never learn braille.
I distributed an online survey and received usable responses from 443 adults in the United States who self-identified as legally blind. On the survey, the respondents were asked whether or not they had ever learned braille. If they had learned braille, they reported the age at which they were first introduced to braille, and whether or not they used braille as their “primary reading medium” during childhood-meaning that they received a majority of their school assignments and other reading materials in braille. Based on the responses, I divided the respondents into three groups. “Primary braille readers” were those who learned braille as young children and used braille as their primary reading medium in school. “Secondary braille readers” reported that they knew braille, but they used a different reading medium in school, such as print or audio formats. Some of the secondary braille readers grew up with low vision and learned braille later in childhood when they lost vision, while others were people who became blind as teens or adults and learned braille at that time. Finally, the third group consisted of those respondents who said they have never learned braille (nonreaders).
Then, all of the respondents answered a five-question scale of life satisfaction, the Satisfaction with Life Scale as well as a single question measuring their overall self-esteem, and another single question asking how satisfied they were with their work or school life. I also asked the respondents to report on their current employment status, how old they were when they became legally blind, and whether or not they still had significant usable vision (more than light and color perception).
When comparing the three respondent groups, the primary braille readers had higher scores on all three well-being measures (life satisfaction, self-esteem, and job satisfaction) than the secondary braille readers and nonreaders. For example, the average Satisfaction with Life Scale score for the primary braille readers was 10% higher than the average for the secondary braille readers and 28% higher than the average for the nonreaders. In addition, the secondary braille readers had higher scores on all three measures than the nonreaders.
When looking at employment rates, a slightly different pattern emerged: the primary and secondary braille reader groups had similar employment rates (56% of primary readers and 57% of secondary readers held some form of employment) but only 42% of the nonreaders held some form of employment. Among the respondents who were unemployed, however, a greater percentage of the primary than the secondary readers reported being students vs. simply being unemployed.
These results are interesting, but there is an alternative explanation worth considering. People who learn braille early in life tend to have more stable eye conditions where they are often totally blind, or nearly so, by school age. In contrast, people who learn braille later in life often have progressive eye conditions where they may lose vision gradually, or later-onset eye conditions that don’t begin until later in life. Thus, perhaps the primary braille readers may be happier simply because they haven’t experienced as many life changes related to losing vision.
To test this alternative explanation, I used a statistical technique to account for the age at which the respondents became blind, as well as whether or not they still had usable vision. Indeed, the respondents who had been blind since birth had higher well-being than the respondents who experienced vision loss later in life. However, even after statistically accounting for this factor, the link between braille reading history and well-being still held up, and the link between knowing braille and being employed became even stronger than before.
Some past research has established a connection between braille literacy, academic achievement, and employment for people who grow up blind. My new study suggests that the benefits of braille literacy also extend to well-being and happiness. Braille literacy facilitates access to information and makes many professional activities much easier to manage, compared with relying on audio or struggling to read print. In addition, it is quite possible that people who learn braille also develop a positive sense of disability identity. The nonreader group, who reported substantially lower well-being and higher rates of unemployment, may also tend to be disconnected from the supports of the blind community. My sample had a relatively small number of nonreaders, and future research will be useful to examine the experiences of those legally blind adults who either are not exposed to braille or who choose not to learn it.
It is clear that people who learn braille at a young age are most fluent with it, and experience the most benefit. However, one of the biggest take-aways from my study is that learning braille later in life is a worthwhile endeavor. As written in the journal article: “These results underscore the value of including braille as a core skill in adult rehabilitation programs, even for partially blind learners.”
Read the full article here
One thought on “New Disability Wisdom Publication! Learning Braille Early in Life is Linked to Adult Happiness”
It is exciting to read that former research indicating the positive impact of Braille on employment is confirmed by this study. It seems also to confirm Dr. Fred Schroeder’s dissertation research which indicated that low vision individuals who embraced nonvisual skills had higher self-esteem and a more satisfying life.
One question, many times research is criticized for having a “self-selected” pool of subjects. I am wondering if your subjects came from different parts of the “blindness community,” those affiliated with organizations perceived to be in favor of Braille, other organizations, and the non-affiliated.