WBU-NAC (Junior Group) Excellent Work
Shining Through Darkness
Kristen Steele U.S.A (20 ,Female)

Two sisters sit on the edge of the bed, each holding a favorite book, as they listen to the steady rhythm of raindrops through an open window. Soon, the thunder grows louder and the flashes of lightning closer. As the lights in the house flicker, then fade to total darkness, the younger girl sets her book aside and crawls into bed. Without searching for a flashlight, the older sister continues reading. You may stop to ponder how she is able to remain focused with no light, but that is only one of the numerous advantages of feeling Braille under your fingers.
Personal experience has shown that Braille typists can exceed (by at least double) the speed of sighted hand-writers. Much of its time-saving capability is due to the contracted form commonly used by most Braille readers. I typically mix Grade 3 Braille, an older system of shorthand, into my personal writing, such as notes, to-do lists, and calendar entries. In addition to the 187 contractions seen in literary Braille, this code comprises approximately 600 abbreviations to enhance time and space. In my work as a licensed massage therapist, Grade 3 is especially useful for jotting down care notes in between sessions. During post-secondary education, I was amused to find that several students who were older than I, and some of them parents, continually requested my notes due to my rapid speed in Braille. Likewise, high school peers envied my near-transcript video notes or test reviews. Such an astounding difference in Braille writing over print has often led me to think that audio transcription would be a side job at which blind people could excel.
The same theory holds true for reading. Several months back, I took a CEU course on Comfort Touch, a nurturing style of acupressure designed for the elderly or those in need of special medical care. Before the course began, I requested the required textbook on Bookshare. The instructor was impressed that her book could be made into Braille. I let her examine a line of it on my BrailleNote and read the paragraph aloud. Her next question caught me off guard: "Would you mind if I take a video of your reading?" she asked with excitement. I accepted without a second thought, as blindness-related demonstrations are commonplace to me now, but I asked her the purpose of a video. "Most Braille readers have access to a display like mine," I explained, "so it's normal these days." She searched for the right words, then responded, "Your reading, it's just like everyone else." Remaining literate despite being blind is not difficult; consistent practice can equal or surpass the fluency of print readers with eloquence and grace.
Braille skills also provide a greater attention to detail -- and thus better retention -- due to a more heightened sensitivity of tactile receptors. Although lifelong Braille users can attest to this statement based on their own experience, Dr. Marina Bedny, assistant professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins University, conducted research to support the fact, presented in her address at the 2017 NFB National Convention. With a mere glance, I am able to tactually look at a line of text from just about any angle and remember its spelling and essence for long after. Nationwide competitions such as the Braille Challenge aim to recognize this acquired ability by creating an accessible yet competitive event, featuring tests in areas of reading comprehension, proofreading, and speed and accuracy. Bookshare has hosted essay contests on impacts of favorite titles as well. Not only is a powerful sense of touch linked to academic success, but it is also an added bonus in a profession like massage therapy in which pinpointing landmarks and adhesions within soft tissue is key.
Anyone who was around before passcode-encrypted iPhones has most likely had a lock-and-key notebook for private journaling or memos. Lack of vision doesn't change your wish for privacy, but with Braille, often no encryption is needed in a house of sighted family members. It is a perk that I rarely think about when leaving index cards filled with random passwords or reminders, or my BrailleNote opened to an e-mail or QuickNote file. Those occasional birthday cards or letters received from other visually impaired friends become extra special to us. More than "a secret code," though, it accounts for a large part of my confidence as a blind adult.
Some may view Braille as a foreign language or a rare finding. Yes, print is standard, mainstreamed. It is always accessible to sighted readers -- in the mail, on the go, in the workplace. But with skill and creativity, so is Braille. Now, nearly all typeforms are represented with their own indicators because of the adoption of Unified English Braille. Plus, it is easier than ever to make any printed material accessible with the growing number of eBraille downloads, scanner apps, and the bluetooth connectivity of Braille displays. So whether you're looking to build speed, save space, increase fluency, or gain privacy and independence, there is sure to be an extra incentive you will enjoy. Remember, you can never be left in the dark again with Braille at your fingertips!


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