WBU-NAC region(Senior group) Excellent Work
“EVERYONE IS NOTEWORTHY”
U.S.A. Barbie Elliott(40/Female)
(Names have been changed).
"You're not listening to me!" Ann was exasperated with me because I had been daydreaming about the thrill of riding a bike. How I longed to ride, knew I could ride, but try as I might, I hadn't been able to master it. "Please teach me braille." Ann pleaded.
Two years earlier, I began kindergarten at our neighborhood public school on a trial basis. The mainstreaming laws in the nineteen seventies when I started school were in the process of changing. Formerly all blind children, especially children like me who were completely blind were sent away to live at the state boarding school for the deaf and blind. My parents didn't relish the thought of sending me away, so they worked with the local school in district to place me in a regular classroom with an itinerant teacher who came to my school once a day for forty-five minutes to braille assignments and transcribe my work for my classroom teacher. I succeeded! I competed with sighted children my age in the highest math and reading groups.
My friendship with Ann began early in the first grade during a weather-induced indoor recess period. Ann was surprised that I could play board games, but she was even more astonished when I won. Ann barraged me with questions about how completely blind people do everything from getting dressed to cleaning a bedroom—a chore we both detested adamantly. We discovered that we had many things in common. We were in the "smart" reading and math groups in school, and we both had younger sisters who drove us crazy. We could sing harmony and play the piano. We enjoyed water-skiing, roller-skating, and horseback riding. After that day we became inseparable.
Now Ann and I were in the second grade together swinging on swings and talking during recess when she asked me to teach her braille. Ann had just been punished for passing a note to another friend. She hoped by learning braille we would be able to pass notes incognito. Ann loved the fact that unlike print where each person's handwriting is recognizable to teachers, braille looks uniform so that nobody can tell who creates it. I believed, however, that as soon as our classroom teacher saw braille, she'd implicate me since I was the only blind kid in the school. What masqueraded as anonymous fun to Ann seemed too much like real trouble to me.
Ann was persistent, so when Helen, who was my itinerant teacher, came that afternoon, Ann asked if she could learn braille. "Barbie can teach it to you." Helen said, "She is a good student!" Then Helen gave Ann a slate and stylus and some braille paper. As we parted on the corner where Ann turned right and I turned left for home after school, Ann made me an offer I couldn't refuse.
"I'll help you learn to ride your bike if you'll teach me braille." I disliked creating extra work after school, but I felt so elated to know that Helen believed, encouraged and supported me. I promised to teach braille to Ann the next day.
Ann was a quick learner so within a fortnight she knew all of the letters, some punctuation marks, and some special symbols like the number and capital sign. Ann even recognized the difference between the letter a, comma, and capital sign.
Bike riding was even better than I had imagined. I rode my bike following Ann on her bike which had a beeper called The Cricket attached to it.
One day our principal introduced a long-term substitute teacher named Ms. Jones to our class. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to pass notes. Ms. Jones caught on quickly and took away our notes and Ann's braille tools. We began to worry. I brooded over what I had written about a slower kid in class. Ann stewed because she described a lunch lady in unflattering terms. A week later, Ann and I received the same braille note which read ...
Dear Ann and Barbie,
You are both smart beautiful girls. I feel lucky to teach you. You can have your things back after school today.
When we met with Ms. Jones after school that day, she explained that after confiscating our notes and tools, she went to the local public library and checked out a book that had basic braille and Sign Language symbols in it. Ms. Jones used the book to read our notes and write one to us.
I went on to graduate from high school and a prestigious university with honors. Indubitably I continued participating in the age-old tradition of note passing, and having fun along the way. Not everyone was as open-minded about my blindness as Helen, and Ms. Jones. Some teachers despised the noisy Perkins Brailler in their classrooms; one substitute teacher even took it away because she thought it was a toy. Some people thought braille was unnecessary because other partially blind people can read large print. Others gave my parents a bad time about allowing me to ride a bike, and participate in physical activities. Most people think of me as a person who just happens to be blind as opposed to thinking of me as a blind woman who happens to have normal human emotions and desires.
I know it takes time and good experiences with something to make it acceptable in society. The more blind people get involved with the general public and show the world that we can do things well, the more change will escalate. More publications need to be available in braille and more blind people need to believe in their own abilities. I believe that things are changing, that most people want to see blind people succeed. Show me a successful blind person and I will show you a wonderful support group who encourage and expect him/her to be noteworthy.