Imagine not being able to read. Not being able to see the words on a page. Not being able to just pick up a book and lose yourself in it.
I do occasionally contemplate what it would be like to go blind. I have an eye condition which, if it progresses to its severe form, could leave me unable to see well enough to read even large print books.
It’s not a prospect I relish and it’s one I try not to think about very much.
Could I learn braille?
I don’t know. I imagine it’s hard to do once you’ve passed a certain age.
I had a blind friend at university whom I used to read for as critical works weren’t readily available. She had, I remember, a natty kind of tape recorder which enabled her to mark the tape so that she could find important passages easily. It was a kind of auditory highlighter. It seemed to me that the level of determination she needed to get through a degree in English when she had to rely on others to give her access to so much of the material she needed was far in excess of what the rest of us needed.
Why have I suddenly started talking about blindness?
Because I picked up this story on the lovely Juxtabook blog. In case you don’t want to read it, it’s about the need to protect the long-term future one of the most important braille presses in Britain. A campaign has been launched which is being supported by Ian Rankin who, apparently, has a son with a visual impairment.
This story told me something startling. Only 4% of books ever get produced in a form that visually impaired people can access. Four percent? That’s nothing!
And who decides? Who decides that this novel, this work of non-fiction, this reference book will be printed in braille while all the others won’t? Does there have to be a ‘demand’ and, if so, how does the blind and partially sighted community know what it should be demanding? Are people who read braille confined to ‘bestsellers’, never able to pick up something new and interesting off the obscure literary shelves, always waiting for sighted people to decide in large numbers that they think a book is good enough to warrant being produced in a braille version? Or am I being cynical.
Given the paucity of books already available in braille – four per cent, remember - I imagine I’d be panicking a bit if I was unable to read printed books and there was the prospect that one of the most important braille presses in the country was becoming more and more antiquated and out of date. I’d be worried that my supply of books was going to dwindle even further.
Seems like a good cause for book lovers to get behind, don’t you think?