Special Prize (For Elementary and Middle School Students) (Japan)
“The First Step to My Dream”
9th Grade, Saga School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Miki Kawahara

I have a congenital impairment in my eyesight. I used to see better than I do now, so I didn’t feel inconvenienced much as a small child. I also developed cataracts and underwent surgery when I was in the 5th grade. My eyesight became extremely weak about 6 months after the surgery.
I began to use Braille when I was in the 7th grade. An achievement test in the 6th grade was the catalyst for that. I couldn’t answer all the questions because it took me too much time to read the problems. When I heard my teacher saying “It’s time”, I thought, “I could have answered them all if I had had a little more time,” and became a bit sad and very frustrated.
When I was about to finish elementary school, my mother said, “Why don’t you learn Braille when you advance to junior high? I think you will be able to read faster using Braille, and it will make your studies easier.” “Sure,” I replied, but I was feeling very anxious. Would I be able to memorize and read Braille well?
When I became a junior high student, I finally started to learn Braille. During Japanese and Self-Reliance classes, I concentrated on remembering the 50 Japanese syllables in Braille. When I had just began, my teacher challenged me by saying, “Why don’t you learn all 50 the characters in a month?” At first I thought it would be impossible to memorize so many letters all at once. But I gained a bit of confidence as I learned more letters every day. I made up my mind to memorize them all in a month, and I actually did it.
Now that I could read them all, the next part of the training was to read them smoothly. Every day, I read over and over the passage in the Braille textbook I had learned that day in class. At first it was difficult to read like I wanted to and I got frustrated. But as I repeated the reading, I understood the contents better and could read more smoothly. The second time was better than the first, and the third time was better than the second.
I participated in a speech contest in May for the first time. I read the manuscript I typed by myself using a Perkins Brailler. I got nervous about the 7-minute time limit, thinking, “I must read fast and not go over the time limit, or points will be deducted,” and this caused me to lose my concentration. I got lost and didn’t know what I was reading which ended up taking more time. The result was 30 seconds over and 6 points deducted. I still regret it. I should have practiced more.
After that, a speech contest for visually impaired students in the Kyushu area was held in Saga, and I made friends with a student from another school participating in the contest. He was the same age as me and could read Braille. I wrote to him in Braille right after the contest. These days I don’t need to make a second draft, but back then I couldn’t send out a letter without rewriting it once. A reply came back a few days after I sent my letter. When I received a letter in Braille for the first time, I was excited to find out what was in it and fascinated to read it.
In the 2nd term, I asked my teacher to count how many letters I could read in a minute. Back then it was all I could do just to follow the letters. Every day I tried, and the number increased bit by bit. I raised the target number higher as I progressed. It was a pleasure to hear my teacher telling me how I had improved each day.
I still have some difficulty reading text quickly when I read it for the first time, but now I can read the equivalent of one sheet of Braille paper per minute. My teacher tells me it’s important to grasp the overall outline the first time I read the text. I think I’m getting good at that too.
What I’m practicing now is to read faster using both hands. I’m right-handed, so I read mostly with my right hand. My teacher says, “You won’t improve if you keep doing that. Your left hand should start reading the first two segments while your right hand also reads. Your brain will learn to recognize what each hand reads. You can train your brain to your advantage.” It’s hard, but I’m trying.
Many things have become more convenient since I started using Braille. My eyes don’t get tired when I read a long text, so I can now read many books that interest me. And I can answer all the questions within the time limit using Braille to take tests.
I want to do something nice for my mother. She tells me I can do anything I want. To do so, I want to use Braille effectively to study hard. I definitely want to have a happy life. I hope I can one day look back my life and think all my efforts were worthwhile.


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