John Hull’s comments on How We Read

John Hull is Emeritus Professor Education at the University of Birmingham and author of numerous books, including the memoirs Touching the Rock: An Experience of Blindness (1990) and On Sight and Insight: A Journey into the World of Blindness (1997). He prepared the following statement for the ‘How We Read’ panel on blindness and reading:

When I lost my sight in 1980 I was already described by my university as ‘Reader in Religious Education’.  The question about how a blind person could be a Reader worried me considerably.  I soon distinguished between someone reading to me (where I am passive) and reading for myself (in which case I would be active).

Since my braille was just not up to the job, it was modern technology that saved me.  In the first place and for several years it was the tape recorder books provided by the American ‘Reading for the Blind and Dyslexic’.  The second stage was in 1983 when the stand-alone ReadingEdge computer became available.  This was my first use of electronic reading.  This was a truly amazing experience and contributed enormously to my newly acquired art of reading with my ears.  All my ReadingEdge computers broke down round about 2006 and after rather a panicky search I discovered OpticBook scanning assisted by ABBYY OCR and, of course, the wonderful JAWS.  I then began to use the Kurzweil reader and mobile phone Nokia 82, which is great but not as fast and comprehensive as the computer.  Aides have proliferated in the last few years.  I also use the VictorReader Stream but I believe that there are new devices which I must learn!

Modern technology has saved my intellectual life and restored access to the libraries of the world.  I still sometimes mourn for the touch and smell of the printed book, which I think will never die.  But blind people will in the future look increasingly to technology to enable them to read.  I am waiting for a flat sheet which I can lay down on a page of a printed book and have it read to me.  Maybe this is already available!  I hope the work of this exhibition and of this forum continues this life-changing search for equality and access.

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