WBU-NAC region(Senior group) Fine Work
“One of the luckiest people on Earth”
U.S.A Jason Meddaugh(30/Male)
To paraphrase the late Lou Gehrig, today, I consider myself, one of the luckiest people on the face of the earth. On the surface, one could conjure up a variety of reasons why I might make that claim. I graduated from a university, started a business, and live what I consider to be a very independent life. But while all of these on their own may seem like cause for celebration, there is one underlying reason that made much of my life possible.
When I was not much older than three, I began to attend school and learn the skills I would need to survive. I learned to count, to share, and to be polite to others, but most importantly, I learned to read Braille. At the time, this seemed to me to be completely normal. After all, everyone else was learning to read print, so it made sense that I was also learning how to read. Instead of understanding how letters looked on a page, I was feeling dot patterns and contractions.
As the years passed, I learned more about Braille and some of the special codes that existed. I learned from the Nemeth Code for mathematics and the code for braille music. I would read my braille textbooks and also read books for pleasure. My parents also learned Braille so they could help me to succeed. In my personal microcosm of life, Braille was normal.
As I transitioned from high school to college, I started to realize that my version of normal was far from the expectations of those around me. I no longer had the luxuries of receiving all of my textbooks in braille.As a computer user, I tried to get by, but quickly realized that there were some classes for which a braille book was simply indispensable.I nearly failed my freshman precalculus class without the aid of a Braille textbook.
Ultimately, Braille is one of the key reasons I graduated from college. I created Braille note cards to learn vocabulary lists in my Spanish class and followed a Braille outline while presenting speeches and arguments in debate. Without these and other aids, my college career would have been made that much more difficult.
As I graduated from college and started my own business, I began to find new reasons to use and love Braille again. For example, I often use index cards with Braille notes to give presentations to a group. I also find it vitally important to offer braille brochures and business cards to potential customers. Just as Braille has been a vital part of my life, I want to pass this belief on to others.
Braille also has played an important role in my day-to-day life. Thanks in large part to the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is now easy to find my hotel room, choose the correct elevator floor, or locate the proper restroom using Braille signage. Of course, accomplishing any of these tasks does not make me amazing or imply that I have superhuman powers, but it does allow me to demonstrate to others the usefulness and power of Braille and how it empowers me to be more independent. For example, most people are accustomed to seeing the Braille numbers on an elevator and are likely to associate that with how blind people read.
As most children do, I possessed a rather naive view of the world around me. Surely, all of my blind friends were also learning to read Braille. Certainly, every school taught their blind students to read at the same reading level as their sighted peers. As I grew older, I sadly started to realize that this statement couldn't be further from the truth.
I spent several summers working at a camp for blind youth, teaching them pertinent skills and helping them to realize their own skills. But these experiences also taught me about the disparities in our educational system. Some children were lucky, like me, to be given the opportunities and tools to learn to read and excel. But the norm as I knew it was quite different from the low standards that many children were expected to achieve. Some were given their textbooks and reading materials in audio form instead of being taught Braille. While this may seem like a similar accommodation, it served to deprive these kids from learning to read. Proper spelling, capitalization, sentence structure, and many of the nuances of the English language, can only be conveyed through writing. If a child is never expected to read words on a page, how will they ever gain the skills necessary to write a research paper in college? Other children did know that Braille was important, but were often much below the reading level of their peers. I saw kids in fifth grade who were just starting to learn their contractions.Others were praised for reading at a rate of ten words a minute. I firmly believe that holding children to these diminished expectations only hurts them later in life.
While I harness the power of Braille, I feel it vitally important to ensure that others are given the same opportunities. I recently attended the National Federation of the Blind's annual Washington Seminar, an event where Braille literacy was one of the areas of focus. We urged our political representatives to hold blind children to the same educational standards as their sighted peers. There is a strong correlation between Braille literacy and opportunity and employment, for ensuring that the blind are given the opportunity to read and challenge themselves will help them become contributors to society. We wouldn't deny a sighted person the right to read, and we shouldn't deny a blind person the same opportunity. I was lucky to grow up with parents and teachers who instilled the importance of Braille in my mind. We need to work to ensure all blind children are just as lucky and that Braille is a part of every blind child's life.