WBU-NAC region(Senior group) Excellent Work
“Living Independently as a Braille Reader”
U.S.A. Allison O’day(50/Female)
My first experiences with the print world were through the magnetized letters that are arranged on a metal board, or more often, placed on a refrigerator. But, as I began 1st grade, it was apparent to my parents and teachers that I would be learning Braille.
Mainstreaming, the educational practice of teaching visually impaired children in the same classroom as their sighted peers, was becoming common practice when I started elementary school. A special education teacher taught me braille, and I learned to read, write, and do math problems along with my sighted classmates.
My sister, who is also a braille reader, and I loved the braille books we received from our regional braille book lending library. Boxes of books would arrive on our front porch, and she and I would race out to see what books we had received, and who would read which one first.
As I progressed through school, my interest in math and science grew, and my college major was in Mathematics in Chemistry. Most of my math texts were transcribed into braille using the Nemeth (math) code, with a few being recorded on tape. The braille chemistry code had not yet been adopted, so my books were recorded, and stick models used to illustrate the chemical formations.
My love of braille, and the need for certified proofreaders at the state agency for the blind in the state where I lived, prompted me to become a certified braille proofreader. The use of computers and high-speed production embossers were in their infancy when I received my certification. The amount of braille transcribed, and the amount of all manner of textbooks requested to be transcribed, grew exponentially through the 90s.
Because of my knowledge of math, and my ability to read the Nemeth code, my primary proofreading duties have been to proofread the math and science books transcribed for the students, of all ages and abilities, in Minnesota. Many of these students have gone on to college and productive careers and lives of independence. The availability of accurate and timely braille has, I believe, been a major reason for the success of the students of Minnesota.
Along with my duties as a proofreader for the State of Minnesota, I also proofread and assist adult students with their lessons as part of the Literary Braille Transcribing Correspondence Course. Many of the students are taking the course so that they can provide accurate braille transcriptions of educational and leisure materials for children and adults in their home towns, thereby promoting braille literacy in all parts of the country.
Reading braille is a big part of my workday, but is also very prevalent in my leisure time as well. My preference is to read books in braille rather than having books read to me in an audio form. I strongly believe that those who are able to read braille, rather than accessing the printed world through audio formats, are much more successful communicators--using correct sentence structure and spelling words correctly. In my early years as a Braille reader, I was what I would call a "closet braille reader," reading braille only at home. At some point in my life, I decided that my bus rides to and from work were rather boring, and I timidly began to read my Braille books on the bus, being careful to sit where I wouldn't be noticed. But some people did notice, and although some asked: "How do you read Braille?", I was very seldom bothered. Now I bring a book with me wherever I go, including on the bus, in waiting rooms while I wait for appointments, and wherever time permits the reading of a few pages.I was also able to read to our sighted children when they were young, hopefully instilling in them the wonders of books. (When our daughter was quite young, she told an admiring adult that she could read books. She opened a book and ran her fingers across the printed page, thinking that this was the way all people read.)
Undoubtedly the advancements in software technology have significantly increased the independence of braille readers. It is not uncommon to go in to a restaurant and have a menu available in braille so that you can select the meal option that interests you; public utilities and many banking institutions will provide your bills or statements in braille so that you can make financial decisions independently; and at least one of the major cruise lines provides their daily schedule of events in braille to their braille reading guests so that they can choose the activities that best suit their fancy for the day.
I am fortunate enough to have a braille embosser and translation program installed on my home office computer. In combination, these technologies have broadened my access to the printed world. On many occasions, I have found a recipe online, have translated the recipe into brailed, and have embossed the recipe and brought it to the kitchen. I am able to emboss the hymns and readings of our weekly church service so that I can be an active participant in the service. And I am able to emboss and read document files so that I can be an effective and informed committee member.
I am grateful to my parents and teachers for encouraging me to read Braille. My ability to read Braille has provided me with a living wage for the past twenty-four years, and given me the ability to communicate effectively in oral and written form. What's more, Braille has enhanced my understanding of the mathematical and scientific worlds, given me enumerable hours of enjoyment through the reading of books, and has allowed me to live my daily life independently.