WBU-NAC region(Junior Group) Excellent Work
“GAINING INDEPENDENCE BY TOUCH”
Canada Hannah Chadwick-Diaz(19/Female)

As an individual with a visual impairment who had never experienced the world of possibilities due to the invention of braille until moving to the United States, I can truly say that Braille has made me independent and changed my view on life in so many ways. I grew up in a rural town located in Hunan Province in Southern China, and did not attend school because that was not permitted for children with disabilities.
Many children in certain parts of China are denied an education because teachers are not trained to assist children with disabilities. This makes it difficult for students to gain an education that would help them reach their highest potentials and live a life that they would be able to build for themselves. Because of not being able to go to school, I had no expectations, hopes, or dreams for my future as a young child.Instead, I spent much of my time helping out on the farm that I lived on with my foster grandparents, but they did not allow me to do certain things because they were afraid that I would get hurt since I could not see well.
When I was eight years old, my foster grandparents decided to send me to an orphanage because they wanted me to have a better life where I would not have to suffer the hardships of managing my own farm as an adult. I helped take care of younger children while at the orphanage until I was adopted in July of 2004 by an American family living in Humboldt County, California. That was when my life forever changed in more ways than one.
I was enrolled in school immediately after I moved to my new home and began to learn Braille, English, orientation and mobility, and all the standard subjects schools teach.If I were asked to choose the most important thing I learned in school today, I would say Braille because that has made all the difference in my education, in gaining an independence I never had in China, and it has presented the world of possibilities that I had never imagined before.
I heard about Braille as a child, but it was only a word I associated with blind and visually impaired people until I began to learn the language myself.This was not difficult because I knew the importance and I was determined as well as willing to reach my goal of independence no matter what it took.
Even though I have25 using Braille for more than seven years, I still feel like there are always new symbols to be learned and new worlds to explore. For example, one of my favorite things to do is reading.When I lived in China, I was not introduced to books, and when I moved to the United States, I had to rely on others to read to me before I learned Braille. Now I can read independently and choose what I want to read, letting me explore new ideas without depending on other people.
Braille is also helpful for learning a new language, which can be helpful if one wants to travel independently. It can be a good asset in addition to learning the language by ear because it helps with grammar and spelling. Nemeth braille is also helpful in learning math. It plays a significant role in being able to understand math symbols and giving the blind person a more “visual” understanding of math equations.
Statistics have proven that a large percent of employed blind working people know Braille. Although the unemployment rate for blind people is close to 75%, among those with good braille skills, 90% have jobs. This is very important because I believe that reading Braille can teach and improve one’s skills in reading, writing, and even speaking. These skills include correct grammar, punctuation, spelling, and more.Although there is technology (such as computers with screen readers, BrailleNote taker, and audio devices) that are designed to help the blind community, braille is very significant for people who are working, attending school, or doing other daily tasks.This is because it can create more and the more Braille a person knows, the less they would have to rely on their sighted peers for help with certain tasks such as writing, reading labels, pressing buttons in elevators, finding the correct classroom or conference room, and perhaps even street signs that will hopefully be in Braille in the near future.
Visually impaired students do not have to use headphones to listen to their screen readers while in class.Instead, they can use a refreshable Braille display to take notes and devote their full attention to the professor as well as participate fully in group discussions conducted in these types of environments.
In some situations, taking a Brailled list (for example to go shopping) on a piece of paper instead of carrying a digital device such as a recorder is more convenient and leads to more independence for a blind person.
Braille music gives a blind person more information about how to play or sing rather than just listening to a recording. The musical notation can indicate how loud or fast for musicians who want to excel in this field of study. If a blind person can read braille music, then they would not have to depend on a sighted person to tell them what the musical notes are.
Statistics, as well as my own personal experience, show that knowing braille leads to greater independence in the areas of education, employment, and day to day activities.I believe that knowing Braille is the first step toward independence for all persons with visual impairments worldwide.

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