WBU-NAC (Senior group) Excellent Work
A Lifetimes of Literacy
Deborah Kendrick (63, Female)
Our library in Mrs. Brown's classroom was just two small shelves in the back of the room, packed with braille books thick and thin, and I knew every braille dot in every one of them. In the front of the room were the towering shelves containing the 1959 Worldbook Encyclopedia, stretching far above the book edge my fingers could brush when I stood on tiptoe. All of those books together, in the front and back of Mrs. Brown's public school classroom, represented an infinite universe of mystery and adventure to me.
At eight or nine years old, whether I was reading about the solar system or Mr. Popper's Penguins, how to make an automobile engine or how a little imaginary girl named Betsy looked forward to the first day of school, my fingers flew across the pages and my mind soared with possibilities.
At home, I was just the little blind girl, the child who roller skated up and down the block because her mother didn't notice but who couldn't have a bicycle because it was "too dangerous." When I wanted a Barbie doll for Christmas, ten was too old to want a doll. When I wanted a real player for the records the juke box man gave me, I was too young. Too blind for a bike, too old for a doll, too young for a machine to play my music — but I could read and I could write! That reading and writing were done in braille, because I had been blind since age five. I never considered it second rate. In fact, I felt a little sorry for others in my family who, although they could see to read print, didn't seem to have this wealth and wonder that I found in books.
I never worried about not being able to see. In my mind's eye, through the pages of books, I saw people and places around the world and throughout history, and I wanted to write stories myself.
When I was eleven and about to enter seventh grade, it was decided that I would be the first student to leave our resource classroom and attend my neighborhood school. Mrs. Brown gave me a book one day called Grade Three Braille.
"When you go to high school and college," she told me, "you will need to take notes. Writing as many words as fast as you can will help." Grade Three is a kind of braille shorthand. I worked through all the lessons and, when I finished a few months later, she said the book was mine.
It was the first and only book I would own until I had two advanced degrees and a job and could buy books myself.
In high school, I began receiving Seventeen magazine in braille. I read every word of every issue, and learned from those pages what kinds of clothes girls were wearing and how to curl my hair. In my large public high school, my knack for writing stories and curling hair were some of the distinctions that led to many friendships.
In college, Grade Three Braille and a slate and stylus resulted in my writing more detailed notes than many sighted classmates, so that sharing my notes led to friendships as well.
When I landed a teaching assistantship at a large university, I would be living alone for the first time in my life. A friend drove me 100 miles to the Library for the Blind. I went up and down the aisles with a cart and eventually loaded his backseat with braille books. Back in my new apartment with that treasure trove of dots, I taught myself to cook.
Later, as a young married woman, I again used books in braille to teach myself to knit and crochet. When my first baby was on the way, I turned to braille and audio books to make myself an expert on pregnancy, breastfeeding, infant care, child safety and games for toddlers.
My access to braille and audio information grew exponentially as my three children grew. I read hundreds of storybooks to them when they were small; when they were older, I read their more sophisticated books along with them. We took turns, alternating chapters of Harry Potter, Nancy Drew and, later, Maya Angelou and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Needing a career that would allow me to be home to care for my children and a schedule flexible enough to be involved in their school and after-school activities, I began selling articles to newspapers and magazines. Every one of them has been written in braille.
Today, the availability of books, magazines, newspapers and all manner of information I access through braille ad audio channels wildly exceeds my deepest longings as a child.On my computer with speech output and a refreshable braille display, I am reading information and entertainment from around the world every day. I can research any topic that comes up in conversation or a dream.
Blessings, we all know, arrive in many forms. For me, blindness was a kind of blessing. Because of it, I learned to read and write braille, to fall in love with learning, and to go far beyond the aspirations of any in my family before me to the adventures that literacy delivers.
Today, I am reading storybooks once again, this time to my three-year-old grandson. Like so many children before him, he never seems to notice that I am reading with my fingers and not my eyes. The reading itself is all that matters — and the genuine equality found in braille literacy is a miracle that every blind person should be given.