Braille Tales: How a Block of Wood Changed My Life

I’ve spent my life traveling extensively, meeting people and building relationships. I serve as Paul Parravano speakingCo-Director of Government and Community Relations at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, do volunteer work, and am a married father of two, trying to navigate the waters of parenthood and finding the ever elusive work/life balance – as are many of you. But unlike many of you, I am blind.

I lost my sight when I was three years old as a result of a rare form of eye cancer. Luckily my parents were not fatalists. They were straightforward and resourceful and that is when they introduced me to a new way of gaining access to the world around me. After I became blind my father crafted for me a block of wood with six holes. Those six holes corresponded to the six dots of a braille cell and he gave me marbles to fit in the holes to represent braille dots. With a lot of encouragement, long hours of braille transcription by my mother, plus perseverance, my world blossomed. I was able to read and write along with everyone else.

I went on to receive my undergraduate degree from Harvard University and a law degree from Northeastern University. And an activity that I’m just as proud of is reading a bedtime story with my children when they were young with print/braille storybooks produced by NBP

Our lives need access to information immediately. So how do we ensure that braille remains relevant? We are now in a world where braille is more accessible than ever and compatible with the use of technology. I use braille every day with my note taker, to give speeches for MIT, and to take notes in meetings, in addition to keeping track of my personal and professional life. And I still keep that block of wood in the top drawer of my desk to remind me of my parents and how it all started.

Paul Parravano is Chairman of the National Braille Press Board of Trustees.

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