One Dot at a Time: Learning Braille As Someone with Low Vision
by Susan Kennedy
I love to learn. I read books frequently. I ask people about how they do things. I visit museums. I watch TV programs and listen to podcasts reporting on news and art and history. Give me the remote, a Netflix documentary, and a bowl of white cheddar popcorn, and I’m set for the night. My curiosity about life compels me to understand.
When I gained low vision a few years ago, I decided to learn how to adapt so I could still live a purposeful life. I switched from paperbacks to ebooks and audiobooks. I use audio tour headsets at museums. I continue to talk to people about their lives. When I watch a movie and I feel like I’m missing information, I use audio description at theaters and on Netflix. My visual impairment doesn’t affect my desire to learn.
Learning Braille with Low Vision
With this attitude, I decided to learn braille. But wait, you may say. You have some remaining vision. Why don’t you just use technology like text-to-speech software and other aids to read print? Well, I see braille as another option in my toolbox of ways to manage low vision. If I can read braille, or at least identify letters and numbers, I can navigate accessible public spaces when I’m alone by selecting the right floor on elevators and entering the intended office. I can label frequently used items at home. I won’t strain my eyes using a magnifier for print when there’s a braille copy. Glare? No longer an issue to these eyes with a tactile language. I will regain the tactile experience of reading. I will find labeled spices and kitchen tools faster. Braille will simplify my life. By learning braille at a time when some people may think I don’t “need” to, it’s a testament to the importance of options. We don’t all do the same things the same way. Life is full of change and options help us deal with it.
How to Learn Braille
There are many ways to learn braille. I enrolled in a correspondence program through the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired. I complete a lesson each month. Maintaining a sense of joy during the work allows me to connect positively to the material rather than create frustration. I know I won’t learn braille overnight, and I don’t pressure myself to do so. By using good posture and solid habits, I will become an efficient braille reader. I take things at my own pace and enjoy the process Hadley’s staff carefully planned.
Recently, I finished the introductory course featuring reading techniques and a few letters. When I run my hand over a page using flat hand scanning, I determine if a page is full of lines or columns. When I run my fingers gently along a line, I notice how the three vertical dots of an L feel different compared to the horizontal pair of dots of a C. I start to notice the space between letters, the patterns of each character. As the tiny real estate of my fingertip hits dots and spaces on paper, the motion stimulates electrical impulses under the skin, sending signals to my brain. Slowly I’m recognizing letters instead of touching random bumps on a page.
I’m learning a new language, a tactile code, one dot at a time. Learning a new skill isn’t easy, but it’s rewarding and part of a fulfilling lifestyle with options. Braille will be one of my options as I live well with low vision.
Learn More About Braille
Re: One Dot at a Time: Learning Braille As Someone with Low VisionPosted by MaureenD on 1/4/2017 at 6:44 PM
Hi Susan: This is Maureen Duffy, from the VisionAware blog. When I read your post, I was very, very happy! Why? For many years, I was an NYC-based vision rehabilitation therapist (VRT) who taught braille to adults and older adults. Many times, it was an uphill battle to convince my students that braille was not "a foreign language they had to learn" or "an outdated way to read, now that we have technology."
From the first day I learned braille as a college student (sitting in a 100-degree Staten Island laundromat), I loved it. (I'm a sighted braille reader.) Your post is terrific and I will be interested to follow your progress. Thank you letting our readers know how liberating braille can be.
Re: One Dot at a Time: Learning Braille As Someone with Low VisionPosted by Jazzyep94 on 1/4/2017 at 8:57 PM
Thats how I feel too! Even though I am low vision, I still want an have the desire to learn braille. I want to learn Braille for when I become a Teacher for the Visually Impaired and if in case If glaucoma decides to take all of my sight. I first learned Braille at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, The Iowa Department of the Blind, Hadley, and my mentor from the NFB who is totally blind.
Re: One Dot at a Time: Learning Braille As Someone with Low VisionPosted by Quietwater on 1/15/2017 at 3:43 PM
Susan, You definitely have the right attitude. Braille isn't an admission that you will lose more vision, or something scary. This weekend, I am reading a five volume book of interconnected science fiction stories because we are experiencing winter snow conditions. I slipped and fell just walking to check for mail. If we should lose power, my braille book will be there to keep me entertained. I have charged my phone, an audio book reader and am prepared with food and water, but my books are at hand whatever comes. Keep learning, I think we begin to losen our hold on life when we stop learning.
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