By Katherine Corbett
When I was five, my mom decided I should start learning to read. Since I was totally blind, she knew that would have to be in braille.
“Everyone your age sees print all the time,” she told me. “There are stop signs, signs at the bank and the grocery store, menus in restaurants, and kids your age are seeing that. Why shouldn’t you?”
So she bought a braille labeler and started to label things in our house. She wrote labels for “counter” and “refrigerator” and “Mom and Dad’s Bedroom”. I don’t remember her sitting down with me and telling me which letters were which, as I’m sure she must have done, but I remember her taking my hand and putting it on the braille labels she’d stuck throughout our home, explaining to me what the signs said.
As I became more familiar with braille, I started to help with the labeling. We labeled the washer and dryer controls so I could do laundry. We labeled a big cardboard clock so I could practice telling time. We labeled the microwave so I could make hot dogs for my younger sister. With each day, with each activity, with each time I felt those bumps under my fingertips, braille became easier and more comfortable for me to read.
My mom even included my younger siblings in my learning. She bought some magnetic letters that had both print and braille on them. By then, I was eight and had started learning Grade 2 Braille contractions. Grade 2 is such that a single letter can stand for a whole word in braille.
One of us would pick a magnetic letter out of the box, like C or Z or P, and my job was to say the words the letters stood for in braille, such as “can” or “as” or “people,” respectively. It was my six-year-old sister’s job to say what the letter was, and my three-year-old brother had to say the sound that the letter represented.
Around that time, I started reading my first “big braille book”, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. I remember my mom standing at the kitchen sink washing chicken while I read out loud to her. I don’t remember how far I read in Charlotte’s Web, but I soon discovered I liked reading other books. When I was eleven, I realized I didn’t need light to read, so could read in the dark. This led to many late nights reading The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter books.
To this day, I’m an avid reader. I do often choose to listen to audiobooks because I don’t have a lot of space in my apartment for braille volumes, but braille will always be near to my fingertips and dear to my heart. I think this is because my mom made signs for me just like everyone else was seeing. These signs led me on a path to a hobby I’ll never give up, and literacy that has enabled me to study, have a job and lead an independent life.
Here are some suggestions for how you can learn braille, and how you can teach someone else:
- Find the braille alphabet magnets at The Braille Superstore at http://www.braillebookstore.com. They are great for learning braille, and can help a person who is blind learn the shapes of the print capital letters. There is a set of magnetic numbers, too, which my family used when solving basic math problems.
- The handheld braille labeler mentioned in this article can be purchased from the Braille Superstore as well, and requires no knowledge of braille to operate. It contains both print and braille on its letter wheel.
- The Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired offers courses for people to learn braille through its distance education program. Visit http://www.hadley.edu to learn more.
- The Braille Library and Transcribing Services, Inc., is a Madison, Wisconsin-based organization which provides braille classes, embosses books and other materials upon request, and has an extensive lending library. Visit them online at http://bltsinc.org or call (608) 233-0222.