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Braille Literacy Increases Job Opportunities

Literacy rates in New Zealand are a concern not just for the sighted community but also for the blind and sight-impaired community says the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind (RNZFB).

"Braille is the only medium that is truly compatible with print and research shows that people who can read braille are more likely to be employed than those who can't," says Paula Daye, RNZFB Divisional Manager Adaptive Living Services

"However, of the Foundation's 12,500 members only about 360 are listed as braille users."

To combat this the Foundation has developed a 'Literacy Through Braille' project. It aims to improve access to tertiary education and increase employment opportunities for blind and sight-impaired New Zealanders through braille use.

The project is in Stage II of its lifespan - Heightening awareness of and encouraging interest in braille.

"Braille is an essential tool for literacy for blind or sight-impaired people," says Martine Abel, Literacy Through Braille Project Manager.

"It is the most effective medium for making notes, writing down telephone numbers, labeling and other types of self communication.

"Braille also enables independence. For example, braille users can write their own shopping lists, no longer needing to rely on other people."

One of the aims of the Literacy Through Braille project is to increase Foundation member's awareness of the advantages of braille.

"There are a lot of stereotypes about braille that we aim to remove," says Ms Abel.

"People think that braille is difficult to learn, but we have many older members that have been taught.

"People also think that if they have the computer technology with the synthesised voice mechanisms then they will be employable. However, in many cases braille is the precursor to this technology. Braille gives general literacy skills of reading, writing and spelling. It enables accurate and precise work, essential to many jobs.

"For job seekers braille gives the added aspect of job readiness. It will not get a person a job, but will make them more employable."

Stage II of the Literacy Through Braille project has three core tasks.

"While the main aim is to market the importance of braille we also need to be sure that we are prepared for the increased interest in learning and reading braille," says Ms Abel.

"We will assess the current braille resources to ensure there will be sufficient quality braille books available. We will also review our teaching process and put in place systems that are time and staff efficient."

The project runs from August 2001 to March 2002.

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