By Lee Cowan, NBC News Correspondent
A truly remarkable experience happened to me the other day while doing a story about Harry Potter. And if you think they've all been done – hold on. This was different. I spent virtually an entire day with the blind – a day that opened my eyes.
The newest Potter book is to coincide with the book's release in Braille too. I always assumed publishers offer their books in Braille to anyone who needs them. Not so. Turns out the National Braille Press – a nonprofit group based in Boston, is responsible for nearly every Braille publication in this country. They produce everything, from textbooks to novels.
|Joo Lee, NBC News|
The books are huge – sectioned up into volumes the size of a small phone books. A single text can take up an entire shelf. And it's not a cheap process. Pressing a book in Braille can cost three times as much as printing one in ink – and can take much longer.
Because of that – the blind often have to wait. Imagine hearing about the latest release of one of your favorite authors, and having to sit on the sidelines for another month or more just to get your hands on one while all your friends are happily reading away.
But here's what's truly shocking: Reading Braille is a skill that is disappearing. Ever since the mid-'60s, the percentage of school age children who use Braille as their primary reading medium dropped from 50 percent to about 12 percent. Fewer and fewer public schools are teaching Braille, and many students find talking computers and tape recordings sufficient.
I might have thought that as well – until I watched 14-year-old Ashley Bernard read. Her fingers flew across the page – faster than I would ever use my eyes to read – and as she read aloud, you could see this was different than hearing a recording. She was an active participant, discovering for herself what the next line of dots held. That's reading. That's what gets us all excited about books. It's what makes reading different than seeing a movie – it's personal, it's yours.
Too often it would seem, many of the estimated 57,00 blind children in this country are missing out on that experience. As much as technology has given us, it has robbed us too of some of the simpler pleasures. So far, 31 states have laws on the books that require Braille be taught. And that got me thinking even more. Have we really reached a point when teaching the blind to read WASN'T a required course? Maybe it is we who are blind.