ABU(Senior group) Fine Work
“How Braille Has Changed my Life“
Sri Lanka Erandathie Swarnamala(Female)
With the rising of the sun, thus began another day. I went to my school attired in a yellow saree.It was a special day for the school. It was the day on which student leaders were being awarded medals. It was a charming but simple ceremony but I sensed heightened enthusiasm amongst the students and teachers present there. As the event commenced I was in for a pleasant surprise.
I was invited by the school Principal to affix the medal on the Head Prefect. I implemented this task amidst applause from the large gathering. It was a moment of pride to be picked for this onerous assignment though there were many sighted teachers whereas I myself was a blind teacher. As one who had been blind from my very young days, this significant opportunity came my way due to my knowledge of the Braille system.
I was born into this world as a blind lass. The tragic and pathetic fate that befell the blind in those times, also became my fate too. I was confronted with numerous obstacles and conflicts. Whilst my younger brother and sister actively played and bustled around our house, sadly my place in the house was at the corner of the door. When I cried out in hunger or thirst, in return my grandmother beat me with a cane whilst my grandfather used ekels to beat me. The only consolation and solace I enjoyed was when my own parents were present in the house. Perhaps, my inherited merit enabled me to be enrolled. I enrolled in the School for the blind in Ratmalana in 1975. Having studied the Braille system there, I was able to read and write fluently. Having felt the tears drip down my face when my brothers and sisters proceeded to school, now I was able to do my studies in Braille with a pleasant smile on my face.
My castle of life which had been unsteady steadied on a solid foundation of Braille learning. My knowledge of Braille assisted me to transform my life, education, culture, economics and standing and outlook.
I commenced my education in Braille in 1975. Whilst I was in year 1, I speedily learnt the Braille system. I proceeded from class to class and fared with excellence at the General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level Examination. I bid farewell to the school that inculcated my secondary education and proceeded to a school for sighted children to study and sit for my tertiary Advance Level Examination. With Braille as my finding rail, I commenced the climb to my higher education. This phase of my education was at a CentralSchool shoulder to shoulder with sighted students. Though there were around 50 sighted fellow students in my class, I did not experience in difficulty in my education. Whilst the sighted wrote their lessons by pen, I did so in Braille.
I was able to carry out my work speedier than the pace at which the teachers conducted lessons. Thereby, I was able to stand in for the teacher in her absence. Having followed my studies in Braille I used Braille for the examination also.
Having obtained excellent results at the Advance Level examination, my next ambition was to scent the fragrance of the flower at the top of the tree of education. In 1990 I enrolled in the JaywardenapuraUniversity. I had high objectives and ambitions. All my University educational assignments were completed in Braille.
Having sobbed when I was left behind at home and my sighted brothers and sisters went to school, now I had achieved my university degree. Having been isolated due to my blindness, I achieved the pinnacle of educational achievement through my knowledge of Braille.
My life was transformed culturally through Braille. Having read novels and short stories in Braille, I commenced writing short stories and novels. The songs and poetry that I composed were rewarded with prizes and merit awards. In addition all my progress in the aesthetic field was due to my ability in Braille.
I received appointment as a Teacher according to my educational achievements. Having myself studied in Braille, I had reached the stage where I used textbooks in Braille to teach my students. By transferring to my fingers and hands the skill I would have had in my vision, I was able to light the lamp of wisdom in the skills of hundreds of students. I received a salary for my profession as a teacher and thus I am able to be independent and not be dependent on others. Having strengthened myself economically, I am now able to strengthen the lives and future of other students. Having suffered due to deprivation, I have been economically strengthened through the Braille system. In the past I had been compelled to hover around in doorways in anticipation of handouts of food and drink, today I am economically independent and self-sustaining because of the Braille system.
In the past I was isolated by society and having been subjected to humiliation and deprivation, I have achieved a stable position in society today because of my Braille skills. Earlier I was rejected by society, but today society needs my services and skills. I am able to work shoulder to shoulder with other sections of society. I hold positions of responsibility in associations and societies. I record minutes of meetings in Braille and read out the proceedings to the members present. I received invitations to serve on associations. Some associations seek my advice to organise and conduct events. I have had opportunities to give of my knowledge and services both at weddings as well as bereavements. I carry out all these tasks with enthusiasm. In the past I had fallen to lower abyss, today I hold a prominent place in society due to my ability in Braille.
When I look back at my past, I feel I have reached meritorious heights. Today I am able to add colour to my book of life which had been previously clouded with darkness and gloom. The sword of Braille which I clasped at the School for the Blind has enabled me to clear all obstacles and reached new heights in my life.
As a retired teacher I still cling to my childhood hobby, reading. I love quiet reading on my own, in the still of the night or the early hours of the morning. Books are wonderful companions, taking you to the forgotten past, the inaccessible present and the distant future.
Being a totally blind person from the age of two and half, all my educational activities were done in Braille. Born in to a poor rural family of nine children, I always had to manage with the minimum as a child.
I could never dream of possessing a tape recorder. So I relied heavily on Braille books. They did not cost me that much. Another great advantage in Braille books was that I did not require electricity, nor had to spend for batteries when using them. My fingers were adequate.
As a student in the hostel with sighted children I could quietly read my Braille books even at night without disturbing anybody. Even now as a grandmother I am able to read books without disturbing my sleeping granddaughter. If I was in the habit of listening to talking books, I wonder whether I would have had to forget about reading.
According to me reading a book and listening to a talking book are two quite different things. I have listened to a few talking books. In a talking book the voice of the reader must be pleasant enough to be listened to, for a number of hours. For example, a high pitched voice is irritating to the ears, when listened to at length. A tired or sleepy voice can kill the interest of the listener. Also, the pronunciation must be very clear. In addition, if the punctuation marks are not taken into serious consideration by the reader, what is read may not make proper sense. It is not a matter of reading sheer words. Reading for a talking book requires a great skill and dedication which many readers may not have. Thus a very interesting book might turn out to be dull and boring due to defective reading.
When you listen to a story, the reader’s voice can have an impact on the characters and incidents of the story. The tone and the style in which a story is read, can create in our mind mental pictures which are not our own. But when we read a story on our own, we can imagine them by ourselves.
As teachers, we always encourage students to read as much as possible. Out of the many benefits of reading, coming in to contact with the spellings of words is an important one. We learn most of our spellings from books. Specially in English you cannot guess the spellings of each and every word by just hearing it. e.g., words like “rendezvous, genre” etc. are very peculiar. The more you stay in contact with words, either with your eyes or your finger tips, the more you remember the spelling.
Braille books are also easy to be carried about, unlike talking books for which you also have to find the necessary accessories. I like to read books when I travel in private vehicles, for long distances.
When I attend seminars, sometimes we are given the notes of the lectures beforehand. When such notes are in Braille, it is very easy to follow the lecture along with the notes. But if such materials were given in the form of talking books we could not certainly play them during the lectures. When I go to conduct seminars, I like to have some Braille notes with me to refer to, in order to be certain that I mention everything that is necessary, and I also do not speak out of the point. It is a fact that our memories start failing as we grow older. But this sort of help can not be got from talking books.
As a retired teacher, I conduct tuition classes in English to young people. When I come across interesting articles while reading books and magazines, I cut and preserve them. These come very handy for me to read to my students. Certainly I cannot use talking books while doing classes.
Blind school students need Braille text books to follow the lesson better when the teacher is explaining it. Braille books were of immense use to me in my teaching career. I always took a Braille magazine with me to school to read when I was free. I could read my Braille books right in the midst of the classes without disturbing anybody.
I have my Braille books of addresses and phone numbers which I carry in my hand bag. My prayer book and my hymn book in Braille are of great help to me when I go to attend the church services. I have one of my bible books on my bed because reading the bible is the last thing I do for the day.
I will not give up reading Braille books as long as my fingertips allow me to touch and decipher those wonderful dots. I wish that more and more Braille books will be produced because Blind and Braille go hand in hand and they cannot be separated.