Otsuki Award (Japan)
Speaking with Braille
Kanagawa Prefecture Massage acupuncture and moxibustion home visit service
Yuko Yamamoto (45; female)
Photo:Yuko Yamamoto

I communicate with people nearby using several means. First, I use my voice. This is a usual means. But, for me, it’s impossible to hear what the interlocutor says unless I wear my hearing aid, conversation takes place in a quiet place, and my partner speaks loudly and slowly. It serves me better in practical terms when my partner “writes letters” on my palm with his or her fingers, and when he or she “types” Braille letters on my fingers, put with my palms down so as to resemble typewriter keys.
I am a so-called deaf-blind person, with a vision problem and a progressing hearing problem (sensorineural deafness).
Recently, my husband has unexpectedly got interested in “finger Braille.” I would even call this a mania. He says that he’s learned the technique by typing Japanese letters, starting with those corresponding to a, i, u, e and o, onto the handle of his car while waiting the signal to change. Fat and clumsy as his fingers are, it took two days for him to master the typing of these five letters only. But then, things got smoother and among the 50 kana letters, he mastered the “a” to “ma” columns, as well as the “ra” column, in just one week.
“Oh, my dear, you need only to work a little bit more to learn all the 50 kana letters!”
I encouraged my husband with much enthusiasm. Actually, he had many more miles to cover, including voiced sounds, the sound of the kana “n,” contracted sounds, special sounds, numbers and alphabets. But I’d decided to refrain from telling this for the time being. This was because I wanted to keep his motivation. So, not only the learner, but I also had to take care to complete the learning.
Recently, I and my husband sat in the eatery of a shopping center to take lunch.
I said, “What are you going to eat?” and put the backs of my hands in front of him.
But he remained silent.
He seemed to be unable to type not a letter for some unknown reason. While sniffing to get the answer with my sense of smell, I turned my hands upside down to offer a different way of writing. I learned that of all the dishes, he’d ordered bibimbap. He couldn’t type any letter in this word, as I still hadn’t taught him the voiced sounds and the “n” sound.
In the last couple of years, I have been unable, even with my hearing aid and the slowest pronunciation of my partner, to hear what he or she speaks in a train car, a bus, a supermarket or a restaurant because of the progress of my deafness. I have to ask my husband many times to repeat what he said, and he has to say the same thing again and again. Also, it’s difficult for me to control the loudness of my voice, as I can’t hear my own voice. So, I sometimes give replies with a too loud voice. My husband feels ashamed of this, and now he seldom speaks to me in the presence of others. In the past, he also refrained from writing on my palm in public places, because of the fear that taking his wife’s hand in an unusual way might seem strange to others.
By contrast, my children don’t seem to feel any psychological barrier in doing so. A reason for them to feel free to writing on my palm may be because as I cannot check, with my eyes, if they write Chinese characters correctly, I have habitually let them write on my palm to check this since they entered the primary school.
Also, when my children got interested in finger Braille, they learned it very quickly with no apparent labor. They accepted this new means of communication quite naturally, as one that is easier and more convenient than voice communication. Now they offer to serve as interpreter when I have to talk with my parents in law and my neighbors. Anyway, I have to add that being children, they do this in a whimsical manner.
Recently, my husband has also come to write on my palm in public places. It was when I was wondering at this change that he offered to learn finger Braille. Before that, I had tried to prime him for learning - for example, by putting a list of Braille letters in a casual manner, but in a very visible place. But he had ignored all my initiatives. Why did he suddenly change his mind to learn finger Braille?
It’s often the case that when someone’s deafness is progressing, this problem is tormenting people surrounding the deaf person more severely than the person himself or herself, because of their inability to adapt to the progress. As the person is totally occupied with countering difficulties that, like big waves, are swamping him or her, he or she has no time for hesitation or worrying, once a decision is made to make headway in overcoming the problem.
In hindsight, I realize that I inadvertently caused my husband much agony. Now he’s freed himself from the agony, and is trying to take a step forward.
I want to tell him - “Thank you, my dear, for being at my side all the time!” My two children have grown to become junior high school students. Lately, I’ve begun to feel a little lonely because they seem to be less ready to talk to their mother than before. I hope that this loneliness will be compensated by the joy to hear my husband’s words and see what he is seeing by being touched by his hand, and to live together with him in this fashion. I hope to talk with him about many things, and have many laughs with him, forever.

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