From time to time I will talk about going through life as a blind person. Mostly being blind is more of an inconvenience than a disability. Maybe that is because it is just something you live with every day like being short or having straight hair. I always wished I had curly hair and I have put a lot of time and money into trying. I probably thought more about having curly hair than I did about wishing I could see.
Anyway, the point of this particular blog entry is not to talk about being blind or more beautiful. It is about the importance of braille.
I grew up always trying to be a print reader. I could read very large print but so slowly that I could never read for pleasure. It would take me about 20 minutes to read a page of a large print book. For some reason no one ever really questioned this. I think my family figured I would grow up and get married and reading would not be so important. I want to mention that talking books were never mentioned and I did not find out about them until I was 17. I am glad I learned print even though for over 20 years I could not read it in any form. I can leave a note for someone that is more or less readable.
In my last year of High school, in Florida, someone asked my family and me if I would be interested in learning braille. They asked it just like someone asking me if I were interested in rock climbing. I could not think of myself as blind and braille really would mean having to use that word. My family felt the same way. As far as they were concerned I just could not see very well.
I was forced to take geometry, which by the way, I don’t think I have ever really used. This is most likely because I probably never really learned it.
I got married right out of high school and had three wonderful children by the time I was 26. I never felt cheated that I got married so young. I never really imagined myself being anything else but a wife and mother. I did however realize how important reading was and struggled to read to my children. We belonged to a children’s book club and when the books came I sat by myself and held them close to my eyes and memorized them. Then I could seemingly read them to the kids. They all grew up good readers.
When I was 30, I was divorced and found myself needing to look for a job. I had done a lot of volunteer work and had good friends who helped me put together a pretty good resume and I also registered with the commission for the blind. Until then I had no idea what services were available to someone who was blind. A rehab councilor visited me at home and signed me up for typing lessons. He also left me a Perkins Brailler, a slate and stylus and a self teaching braille book.
I had about a million things to do. My family lived in Florida and I was in Colorado. This meant they really could not help me. I had to put my house up for sale and get ready to move. I had three kids who were under 10 years old. How could I take the time to learn braille? However, I felt like I needed to do something to stretch my brain and get into a good mind set for looking for a job. Learning braille seemed to be just the right task.
I was amazed at how easy it was to learn the basics. Getting all the contractions straight and building up speed were not so easy. I admit I am still not a fast braille reader but much faster than I could ever read print. The most important thing is that I can communicate with myself. For years after I went to work we did not have computers so braille and recording were all we had. Although I still read for leisure using speech braille is my first choice for manuals and keeping track of my life.
We have a small cottage as a second home and that means I have two stoves, two washers and dryers and I am much too old to remember all those buttons. I have braille labels on everything. They are on the appliances, thermostats, remotes and other places I can’t think of. I much prefer to use a braille display along with speech on my computer. Braille gives me more control over my writing. I feel like I am connected to the printed word in a way that speech doesn’t completely fill the bill.
People are scared of braille. They think it is the final step to blindness. First of all, being blind is not so big a deal. For the record, I am now fine with straight hair; well I am mostly fine with it. Someone can learn uncontracted braille in a couple of hours and suddenly life seems much simpler. You can label anything you want to keep track of. You can keep phone numbers and recipes in a way you can find and read them.
I have two final comments:
If you are a visually impaired child or the parent of a child who is visually impaired, think braille. Braille is another tool in your tool box that will come in handy.
If you are an older person who is losing vision, give braille a try. Trust me; it is not as hard as you think.
Here are some resources