NOTE: The following article is from the Braille Monitor, January 2011.
From the Editor: Father Ephraim is a sighted teacher of Braille Byzantine Music Notation who taught himself to read Braille by touch. He has created an online tutorial for this music notation at <www.stanthonysmonastery.org/music/BrailleByzantineMusic.html>. After discovering the Braille Monitor online, he offered us his thoughts on the advantages of tactile reading for sighted people. This is what he says:
Learning a challenging new skill such as tactile reading boosts self-confidence, stimulates the growth of neuron connections, and may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Tactile reading enables one to read in the dark—a skill with innumerable practical applications. To list a few:
a) For married couples: The freedom to read in bed without bothering one’s spouse with the light.
b) For people with difficulty falling asleep: Studies have shown that a person is less likely to fall asleep without complete darkness. Therefore, reading at bedtime with one’s eyes (requiring light) inhibits the onset of sleep, whereas reading with one’s fingers does not. Besides, in order to read with one’s eyes comfortably, the head must be in an upright position (which further delays the onset of sleep), whereas tactile reading can be done while completely supine.
c) For people who wake up in the middle of the night the presence of even small amounts of light disrupts the production of melatonin in the brain (an essential hormone produced only at night). Therefore people who suffer from insomnia will also suffer from a melatonin deficiency if they wake up and pass the time by using their vision to do something. However, if they were to pass the time by reading Braille, their lack of sleep would not be compounded by a melatonin deficiency. This can be quite serious, since recent studies have demonstrated a link between melatonin deficiency and cancer.
d) For people outdoors reading with light can attract unwanted insects, whereas reading without light does not.
e) Last (and probably least, as well): A tactile code affords the ability to read and write messages in the dark during wartime when light would attract enemy gunfire—which of course was the historical catalyst for the invention of Braille.
The ability to read without using one’s eyes enables one to use any time when the eyes or head are occupied but the mind and hands are not. To list a few possible situations: during an appointment with the dentist or the barber, having an MRI or CT scan of the head, waiting for someone or something that must be detected by the eyes as quickly as possible, and working as a security guard watching monitors. Tactile reading provides a more intense connection with the text than visual reading or listening. This difference is especially pronounced for sacred texts.
If one should become visually impaired, being already able to read without one’s eyes reduces the potential for grief over the traumatic change and enables one to adapt to a new lifestyle more quickly and easily. Proficiency at tactile reading increases one’s understanding of the visually impaired by experiencing one of their challenges. More important, it also engenders greater love both for and from the visually impaired. Braille literacy can empower one to bring one’s expertise in some fields to the visually impaired.
Braille literacy enables one to keep private notes in a format that more than 99 percent of the population cannot decipher. Staring at a computer monitor or a television for hours is a common cause of eye redness and discomfort. The ability to read without one’s eyes enables one to rest them while still doing something productive.
Finally, tactile reading is fun.