Ten years ago, when I started working at National Braille Press, braille was a new and foreign concept to me. As a sighted person, it seemed daunting, undecipherable, and hard. Lifelong braille readers assured me that learning braille was not that much different from learning to read print but I remained skeptical. As I talked with more readers, the passion of those who embraced braille opened my mind and my skepticism gradually evaporated.
When I read Dr. Edward Bell’s post on the T-Base Communications blog on learning braille as a teenager, I was reminded how a simple shift in attitude can mean the difference between success or failure in any endeavor.
Here’s what Dr. Bell had to say:
No one said that braille would take a long time to learn, and so it didn’t.
No one said that braille was antiquated, and so it wasn’t.
No one ever told me that braille would make me a second-class citizen, and so it didn’t.
No one ever told me that braille would be among the most influential factors leading to my success, but it was.
Today, braille is a daily part of my life. Just last evening I used my braille syllabus and notes to lecture graduate students. This past weekend, I pulled out my trusty slate and stylus in order to write out notes for the speech I had to give at a statewide conference.
Daily, I use braille to label financial records, text books, and other academic materials. I use braille for taking notes during administrative meetings and during conference calls.
At home, I use braille to label CDs and DVDS, along with home appliances so I can use them independently. I don’t know how I would use my oven, microwave, or treadmill without braille.
How would I have read bedtime stories to my young daughters if I did not have braille? There is no doubt that I would be far less independent and successful if I did not have braille.
I guess all I have to say about braille is this:
It, like many things, is what you make of it. If you think it defines you as blind, you are correct. If you think it is somehow a defeat or failure, then it will be.
But if you think that braille is the path to literacy, freedom, independence, hope, success, satisfaction and fulfillment, then it will be. Or, at least it has been for me.
Edward Bell is the director at the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University and actively researches the most effective ways to teach students and adults who are blind or have low vision. He is also an active contributor to the Blog on Blindness. His students have gone on to become braille teachers, cane travel instructors, rehabilitation counselors, and advocates for the blind.