WBU-NAC(Senior group) Fine Work
Braille, the Key to Independence
U.S.A Sharon Eiland (48, Female)
“All right boys and girls, everyone please find your seats and no talking please.”
It was a warm day in early September, 1972, and Mrs. Aldridge; the Kindergarten teacher was preparing her class for the day’s next activity on the first day of school.As I sat at my desk, awaiting her next instructions, I could hear two boys talking to each other across the aisle from me.Somewhere within the room, came the sound of a girl talking to herself, or was she singing? I couldn’t be sure.I felt someone brush by me on their way to their seat, their feet making a shuffling sound on the tiled floor.Then I heard my teacher sit something on my desk.This was followed by the words, “everyone keep your hands in your lap until I’m finished passing out what’s needed for our next activity.”
Was this it? My feet started swinging involuntarily and my heart started to beat double-time. I had to clinch my hands tightly together in my lap so that they wouldn’t reach out and touch the thing on my desk that I wasn’t supposed to touch until everyone had whatever it was.
“Boys and girls, we are now going to learn to read and write braille.” Yea! Hurray! This was it.It was really and truly going to happen.The thing that I’d wanted to do for over a year and that my parents said was going to take place when I started school was happening this very moment and I was beyond excited.So excited in fact, I had almost forgotten to explore the thing on my desk that would help me achieve this amazing and unbelievable thing.
As my hands unclenched themselves and made their way to the top of my desk, they came in to contact with a block that upon further exploration, had 6 holes, 3 holes on each side going up and down.Next to the block was a box of little pegs.
My heart sank.I thought I was going to learn to read and write braille.This didn’t look like braille to me.I had felt braille before and it wasn’t like this.It was a bunch of bumpy dots that were on paper.I had also seen a braillewriter before and this was not it.So confused and disappointed was I that I almost missed hearing my teacher’s next instructions.
“Everyone please take a peg from your box and place it in the hole on the top left corner of your block.”Hesitantly I did this and I heard Mrs. Aldridge say, “You have just made the letter A” I was doing it! I was learning braille! I had just formed the letter A. on this block and peg.I was really and truly learning how to read.I was going to be just like my sighted friends: reading books, writing my letters, and learning to read and write my own name.No more was my older sister going to gloat that she could read and I could not.
An Unsuppressed smile spread over my face and with a renewed excitement and a determined heart; I took my first steps in to a world that would transform my life forever.The gates of independence were flung open, barriers were broken down, and thus, my introduction to braille began, changing my life irrevocably.
When I reflect back on that first day of school and my introduction to braille, so many memories come rushing to the surface.For instance, learning to read and write my name, my first braille reader, Sally, Dick, and Jane, checking out my first braille library book and reading it to my parents.In later years: sitting alongside my sighted peers in high school and college reading from the same text, mine of course in braille.Taking notes in braille for classes and speeches.And perhaps most important, teaching others to read and write braille.
You see, braille helped to shape my identity, giving me the confidence to accomplish any task that I wanted to achieve.Using braille put me on the same level as others and has embedded itself in to the daily workings of my life.
When Louie Braille put braille on the map, he made it possible for opportunities and doors to be opened for blind and visually impaired individuals worldwide. So, today, when people make comments like, braille is too bulky, or it’s becoming obsolete, or too time consuming to teach; here is what I’d say to that: "Braille is literacy, braille is power, braille is independence, and braille is the key that will open the doors to success for blind and visually impaired people everywhere.”
It is now several decades since that first day of school.On a warm September day, I sit at my table in my kitchen.The sliding glass doors are open. The sun is shining and a cool breeze fills the room with the sweet smell of newly mown grass with just a hint of rain.Beside me, my three-year-old daughter is wriggling impatiently in her chair, her two curly ponytails bouncing as she moves.
I sit the block and pegs, which is today called a swing cell, on the table in front of her.And with a smile on my face and rapidly beating heart, I say, “Jasmine, today, you are going to learn to read and write braille.”