USCIS, in a Nice Touch, will offer the Naturalization Test in Braille

By David North on November 24, 2020

In a touch of welcoming symbolism, even though it will be rarely used, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will now offer the naturalization test in Braille. It will also make available to the deaf a 15-minute video on the test in American Sign Language.

Both of these developments were announced the other day by a USCIS press release which is not yet available on the internet (I received a mail version.)

Using a Google search, one gets an answer to why these developments were not announced, say, 40 years ago, instead of today; and one also finds why it was just announced.

Looking back at the naturalization test of 40 years ago, as we did recently, we note that the test was an oral one, and Braille, a form of written communication would not be needed. The Google search then shows us that some months ago a blind man took the naturalization test (now all standardized and in writing) and failed it, because he could not read it (and no staff member intervened to read it to him, I say, reading between the lines.)

A senator (who incidentally lost both feet and ankles while a helicopter pilot in the Iraq War) heard about it and, understandably, complained.

When a U.S. senator, who is a double-amputee, makes a valid plea on behalf of a blind man, she, and he, get heard, and changes are made. She is Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).

As to why the Braille had not been introduced earlier, some more Google searching (together with some math) provides other answers.

Braille is named after a Frenchman, Louis Braille, who, blind as a result of a childhood accident, created the system at age of 15, almost 200 years ago. But it is not used by a very large population, generally, and I suspect that a disproportionally small share of international migrants is legally blind. Moving to another nation is a big challenge; living with blindness is an even bigger one – how many people will take on both challenges at the same time?

Now let’s mix in a little math. Google says that about 1.3 million Americans are legally blind, with a much bigger group having some-to-severe seeing problems. That is about 0.4 percent of the U.S. population, and of these no more than 10 percent use Braille. When those numbers and percentages are applied to the annual cohort of one million arriving immigrants, we would have no more than 400 arriving Braille readers, if the incidence was the same as in the resident population. Using the same math we get about 1,600 arriving users of sign language each year.

Given these numbers and the presumption that Braille users or American Sign Language users are probably less likely to tackle the naturalization test than other migrants, the numbers who would try to pass the test would be small, and, given their handicaps, not a very vocal minority. Hence the slowness to do anything until Sen. Duckworth intervened.

The bottom line – USCIS did the right thing.