WBU-NAC region Excellent Work
“BRAILLE IN MY LIFE”
U.S.A. Judy Sanders(62/female)
We often read in newspapers articles that Braille readers find better jobs than do print readers with low vision.If I am any example, there is a lot of truth in this statement.I would like to share how Braille has impacted me in the world of employment.
First, however, let me compare my education with that of my twin sister.I am totally blind; she is legally blind and can read print with a magnifying glass.
We began our education at a school for the blind.Both of us were taught Braille. I remember the flash cards that I learned to recognize.I could speedily red through them; especially the one-cell contractions like “and” and “the” was a fun word, too.In those days (the early 1950’s) we learned contractions as they came.There was no uncontracted Braille.I did not find it confusing.My biggest problem was reversing letters.I read e for I and f for d.I would ask my mother “What does f-o-g spell?”She knew something was wrong when I read, “My fog Spot.”My mother found a solution to this dilemma.She learned the Braille alphabet.She never did tackle contracted Braille but it proved unnecessary.
While I was becoming a prolific reader my twin was excelling in math.(My fourth grade math teacher said that I was the reason he was bald.)At our school Susan was taught both Braille and print; everyone around her thought of her as “partially sighted” instead of blind.Different teachers might have helped her realize the advantages of reading using both modes but that did not happen.
In the middle of fourth grade my family moved to Denver where we were enrolled in public school.It was our junior high itinerant teacher who suggested that Susan could give up reading Braille because she could read large print.She would never read for pleasure after that and it probably contributed to a short-lived college career.She did find success as a business woman, wife and mother.But I often wonder what her life might have been had she remained a Braille reader.
In college I discovered a love for public speaking, oral interpretation and readers’ theater.Braille was necessary to participate in all these activities and the Library for the Blind was invaluable in making it possible for me to have the material I needed.
My first real employment opportunity came to me after graduation from the University of Colorado with a teaching credential in speech communication and minors in English and social studies.I worked in the media center of an elementary school teaching a variety of subjects to children from all over the school.I kept lists of names of students, notes about their progress and my lesson plans all in Braille.Computers were not yet available for record keeping.Kids were fascinated with Braille.It served as a means of getting some shy students to open up and express their curiosity.
Since that first job I have had a variety of other positions—all requiring that Braille be an integral part of my success.I worked as a travel agent where all my files were in Braille.I had to work cooperatively with another agent to produce airline tickets (computers were still not yet available to me.)
For seven years I worked in a Congressional office in Minnesota.By now I was using a computer that had speech software and a braille display.I found that if I wanted to proofread a document I was more assured of accuracy if I used the Braille display rather than speech.
One of my more intriguing opportunities was the chance I had to represent the Congressman, Gerry Sikorski D-MN, at public events.This happened because Mr. Sikorski would be in Washington and he was allowed to send someone as a surrogate to local rallies and forums.One such event was a rally in support of an El Salvadoran seeking political refugee status in this country.I was to make a statement on Sikorski’s behalf.The statement was written in DC, faxed to me in Minnesota (we were not yet on e-mail) and entered in to my computer.It was then printed with my Braille printer and then all I had to do was practice delivering it.
There was one serious problem.This rally was taking place in an outdoor venue; people were gathered in front of a massive cathedral on a hill.I was to stand on the flatbed of a truck and read my statement in to a microphone.So what was the problem?It was December and 15 degrees in Minnesota!Reading Braille is wonderful expect when your fingers are numb from cold.Anticipating this difficulty I practiced reading the statement over and over again inside my cozy apartment the night before so that I almost had the thing memorized.There was a lengthy program and I had to wait about 45 minutes before it was my turn.I climbed onto the truck, removed my gloves and began to read.I got past the first sentence when I realized that I could not read.I knew that many of the people listening to me could not see me and did not know that I was reading Braille.I had to say something to explain my hesitancy.I said, “Have you ever tried to read Braille in 15 degree weather?I think I will summarize.”I got by, and because of a very supportive audience and congressman this was not my last speaking engagement.
I am now embarking on what will likely be my last paid position.Last summer I was given the chance for employment as a Braille proofreader for the state of Minnesota primarily reading children’s textbooks.I am honored to be a part of producing quality Braille for today’s generation of Braille readers.I hope that I am contributing to a future of joyful reading whether for pleasure or in a professional capacity.
I say thank you to Louis Braille for making all this possible. Happy 200th, Mr. Braille!