WBU-NAC region(Junior Group) Fine Work
Canada Ana Gschwend(18/Female)

As blind individuals, we rely on a lot of audio material to help us in many areas. Whether that be listening to a descriptive video, either at home or with the help of headphones in a movie theatre, listening to someone read a written work that is only available in print at the time to us, getting oral instructions from someone, listening to books read on tape, or listening to music, we, along with our sighted peers, are exposed to a variety of audio materials each day. We are also exposed to braille on an almost daily basis. Most of us have at least one braille item in our home, and if not, we can sometimes find braille in public places—from braille on the signs of washroom doors to braille below the print numbers beside the buttons in the elevators. For as long as I can remember, listening to at least one thing a day has been apart of my life, and the same can be said for my use of braille, my main source of information. Here is how, over time, braille became more of a fixture in my life, and how my access to audio materials has also played a part in my life, along with my use of braille.
When I was very small, before I knew enough braille to read a children's book on my own, my mom was given a number of story tapes from a coworker of my dad's. The tapes, which came along with a print copy of the story, were a part of the "I Can Read It All By Myself!" beginner's series, used with young children to show them the joys of reading and encourage independent reading. I was also given a number of story tapes about the characters from the popular kids' television show, Sesame Street, that were part of their "Start To Read" book series, which I thoroughly enjoyed. My first braille book was made for me when I was in preschool, and it was titled, "If You Can Give A Mouse A Cookie," which I later found out was a very popular book among parents of young children and the young children themselves. And so began my journey toward learning braille, which opened up a whole new world for me.
But I wasn't just exposed to stories read aloud on tape, with entertaining voices and sound effects thrown in. My mom also made a point of reading to me from a print book just about every day, and I was given a few books that play music, made noise, or had stickers in them that you could scratch and sniff, making for an educational, nurturing, relaxing mother-and-daughter way to end the long day. As I got older and started to learn braille, my mom and I would read from "TwinVision" books, which have both braille and print in them, with me reading a page or two and my mom doing the same. I was fortunate enough to have been put in preschool at age three, into a program that emphasized learning for all its students, were almost all disabled in someway, and that I had a well-experienced braille instructor show me the basics of the code, and help me reach significant milestones on my path to proficient braille literacy: how to write my name, braille the alphabet on my own, etc. And I was fortunate enough to have another braille instructor for my kindergarten and first grade years, who's been teaching kids braille for just over two decades, and who was well-known in the field of the education of blind children.
As I got older, and my schoolwork increased, I relied a little more on audio materials. When I moved to Canada, from the United States in July of 2001, I started receiving services from the Manitoba Department of Education, who encouraged my love of reading braille books, and also let me take out books on tape from their large library. I used some of the books for school, but preferred to use braille for my schoolwork. I was, and still am a little hesitant to learn how to read books online or in E-braille or in E-text, as I like those good old braille books you can hold in your lap and read for hours on end, or those good old cassettes or CD's that you can put into a cassette or CD player and listen to for hours on end. Maybe sometime I'll be more open to the new technological advancements in literacy for the blind, but right now, braille and audio materials are my choice when it comes to reading, be it for school or for pleasure.
When I'm in school, I have all of my textbooks and assignments brailled for me. If my class is reading a book, I urge the teachers to find a hard copy of it in braille, as I find that easier than sitting for hours listening to tape after tape of the book being read aloud. When I was younger, I leaned more toward someone reading to me, but now that I am an adult, I like being able to obtain information on my own, through the use of braille. I know of one blind student who had a few textbooks put onto tape, and maybe that works for them. But for me, it is easier to find where I left off if I have the braille hard copy in front of me.
Bottom line here: if someone asked me to choose between audio or braille, I'd opt for both, in equal doses. I prefer to listen to books on CD for pleasure, and save the braille reading for school. That way, literacy never gets boring for me! But it depends on the individual as far as how they choose to access the world. My final piece of advice, from my experiences, is to do what feels right for you.


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