EBU Otsuki Award
“Despite my age, Braille changed my life”
Spain Teresa Bornez Abascal(89/Female)
photo:Teresa Bornez Abascal
I say at my age because I am an old woman aged 88 and in one month’s time, I will be 89! And the Braille coded system for reading and writing really changed my life.
I was born on 26th April, 1922, so my birthday is next month, and I really hope I make it!
My life has been rich in experiences and full of ups and downs. The first significant event in my life was the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War when I was just 14; the worst part of this, for me at least, was having to leave school. I could no longer study and had to go to work in a tailor shop, making army greatcoats. I shed a tear with every stitch; each coat would later have its own story to tell. What would the soldier who wore it be like? I would make up stories around each coat, contained in each drop of blood spilt when I pricked myself (the material we used to make the coats was really stiff and I can still feel the harsh fabric between my fourteen year old fingers), and we did not even have a scrap of paper to staunch the flow. I cried a lot. I did not want that job, nor did I wish to contribute to the war effort by sewing greatcoats. The only time I stood up to my mother (my father was away fighting on the front line) and I told her I was not going back, she slapped me so hard that from that day onwards, I began to suffer hearing loss. Yes. I knew what it was to go hungry, to be distressed, cold, and frightened, always so frightened. But not being able to study was what hurt me most of all. Well, that might be a slight exaggeration, but it was certainly an added source of anguish amongst so much suffering. Damn the war! Now it seems so long ago, though occasionally, the memories flood back, and I find it hard to breathe …
When the war ended, I got married. My husband, Leandro, is 87 but he is in worse health than me. I had three children; two of them are still alive. And so many things happened, but I am going to talk about the present day, because I am able to do that, thanks to you, Louis, by writing in Braille.
At 88, I thought there was nothing left to learn. Well, perhaps I did not express that idea correctly. What I meant was, given the short time left for me to live with an agile body and lucid mind, what could I possibly learn? Who would want to teach anything to an old woman, almost blind and almost deaf? And if I am to be honest (though I am ashamed to admit it) I confess this, here, on paper, I was not really interested in anything: my goals - a good night’s sleep, a bit of exercise – though without overdoing things because my bones ache; small portions of healthy foodand avoiding arguments with Leandro.
Logically, my physical faculties are declining, going downhill fast; I have lost my hearing and people become impatient if I ask them to repeat what they have said. This makes me go back into my shell – a vicious circle:
“They don’t bother to talk to me because I can’t hear them. Because they don’t talk to me, I feel more and more isolated” and this, coupled with the fact that I cannot see at all well, led me to become afraid to go out, so I shut myself off indoors. Day to day life was very frustrating for me, very lonely, without radio or television. Without books, without being able to write. What could I do? Admit I was blind? Well, yes. I needed to say it: I am blind and I need help! Life must go on! Then on 25th May, 2007, the ophthalmologists confirmed this. I was now officially blind. So I paid a visit to the ONCE organisation, because the other alternative was a slow and horrible death in life. I went to the ONCE despite being so clumsy and handicapped. Today, I am so glad I did; now, when I am just a month away from my 89th birthday and everything is so different from that fateful day: 25th May, 2007.
What did I find at the ONCE organisation? Thanks to their savoir faire, they take on young and old alike and provide them with the necessary resources to make their blindness less of a burden. In my case, following a rehabilitation process, where I learnt to use a stick, I was directed, given my advanced age, to the “senior section”, where I met up with people, younger than me in the main, but all over 60. No-one was quite as old as me, but nevertheless, everyone was made to feel really welcome. This department organises talks, events, debates, cinema forums and, of course, there is always coffee! But I wanted to carry on reading, to be able to write down phone numbers (being hard of hearing, voice programmes are of little use to me), make shopping lists, write down in Braille a lot of the stories I have written over the years in order to see how they stand up to the test of time, identify my medicines, which now have the labels written in Braille, to be able to take the lift by myself … I wanted to learn Braille! I wanted not to have to depend on my husband, on my children who live quite far away and call in from time to time, or the kindness of my neighbours. So, naturally, I learnt Braille.
I did. It was quite hard for me, and I shed more than a tear or two, I have to admit; I had to persevere, read a lot – little and often (as our teacher says), and be tenacious. And I did it!
Thanks to the wonders of technology! I scanned my texts and then, with the aid of a Braille printer, converted them to printed texts in Braille. I re-read them! Thanks to the Braille coded system for reading and writing, thanks to you, Louis Braille. You undertook the wonderful task of helping so many blind people to read and write. I can read my favourite stories again!
“The snail”, “A bundle of ideas”. “The basket of flowers”, and many, many more. The sensation of being able to read and write once more, write out my recipes – salmon tart, almost forgotten – is something close to happiness. It may seem a simple thing, but for me, to sit down in the afternoon with a book by Soledad Puértolas, or Pérez Galdós, is all I ever hoped for, what now fills my days with purpose. That is why I want to thank you, Louis, from the bottom of my old and tired heart, tired of talking and of keeping silent, for giving the world this wonderful system for reading and writing.

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