As this is posted, it would have been Louis Braille’s 210th birthday. His system of reading and writing is still used today, and not just for books. If you’ve recently been to a cash machine or even used a public restroom, you may very well find the raised-dot system that Braille invented.
There are also, of course, thousands of books printed with the braille system. And that includes some modern crime fiction. I’ve seen titles by Lisa Gardner, Michael Connelly, Alex Gray, and others. The Stieg Larsson Millennium trilogy is available, too, in braille.
Braille arguably opened up the world of books and literacy to those with blindness. But, since that time, there’ve been a number of technological advances that have made it easier for those with blindness and limited vision to experience books.
One of those advances has been recorded books. It used to be that book recordings were done almost exclusively to provide access to those with blindness. But today, millions of people listen to books, rather than read them. And with modern technology, there’s no need for the clumsiness of recording on a physical tape or disc, and then playing it back. An audio book is an awfully convenient way to experience a story, when you think about it. Digital recordings can go with you on a walk or commute, and it’s easy to download them from the library or estore. What’s more, an audio book allows for an extra layer of involvement with a story, as you listen to the way the narrator (or narrators) interpret the characters and dialogue. And, after all, the very first storytelling was oral; it’s easy to see why that format still captures our imaginations. It’s still the way that many cultures pass stories along from one generation to the next, and from one group to the next.
Not everyone with vision impairment needs the total support that braille and recorded books provide. Some people do have some vision. Others’ vision changes as – ahem – the years go by. Today’s technology allows those people to enjoy books, too. For instance, one of the features available in most e-readers is a choice of font. An adjustment or two, and it’s possible to read using a very large font if that’s what you want or need. That option’s convenient even if you don’t have vision impairment, but do have some eyestrain. And just about all of today’s computers and smartphones allow you to easily adjust the font of what you’re reading. You can often change the background, too, so that the contrast between print and background is greater, making it easier to read.
For many people, there’s just no substitute for a paper book that you can actually hold. For those who want a paper book, but need some extra vision assistance, there are large print books. That larger size print can make all the difference for those who can still read, but whose vision is a little limited. If I may share a personal example, I’ve heard from several people that they liked the fact that my Joel Wiliams novel Past Tense was printed with slightly larger font and more space between lines. I hadn’t deliberately arranged for that, but it was interesting to find that that makes a difference to readers.
These are only a few of today’s options for those with blindness or limited vision, or for those with eyestrain. It’s admittedly not as easy to find the title you want, and it can take longer to experience a book. But it’s fascinating to see how access to books and stories has become much more easily available to a wider range of people.
It used to be that those with blindness and vision impairment had to rely on someone else to read aloud, write letters, and so on. And there’s lots of crime fiction that depicts that. For instance, Millicent Pebmarsh, whom we meet in The Clocks, is blind. She gets about well enough, but her horizons are limited in many ways. When the body of an unknown man is found in her home, she’s not aware of it at first. But, soon enough, she’s drawn into the mystery of how he got there and who killed him. Also drawn into the mystery is Sheila Webb, who works for a secretarial agency and who got a call requesting that she go to Miss Pebmarsh’s home to do some writing for her. That aspect of the novel is an interesting look at the way writing was accomplished in the days before modern technology.
Today, those with blindness and limited vision have more access to books and literacy than they did. In part, that’s because of advances in modern technology. But a lot of it started when Louis Braille created his system of reading and writing. What about you? Whether or not you need to do so, do you use audio books or larger font? If you’re a writer, what alternative options do you choose for making your work available?
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of song by the Who.