WBU-NAC (Junior Group) Excellent Work
Connecting the Dots: My Journey with Braille
U.S.A Kayla Britt Weathers (25, Female)
“And now, graduating senior, Kayla Weathers will provide us with the closing remarks for our commencement ceremony.” As the assistant principals statement was made, I grabbed my cane, and with shaking hands and a pounding heart made my way to the auditorium stage of the Georgia Academy for the blind surrounded by the cheers of my family, friends, and teachers. Locating the podium with my extended cane, my shaking fingers searched for the Braille copy of my remarks that I knew would be placed there. As I positioned myself in front of the podium, fingers poised above the page to begin my address, the audience became quiet and still. Taking a few deep breaths, I ran my fingers fluidly over the first line of text, and began my remarks.
As I reflect back on a day considered by many to be the culmination of the high school journey,filled with celebration, surrounded by wonderful family and friends, I am reminded of the pivotal role that Braille and auditory devices have played and continue to play in my everyday life. As the first blind student to be enrolled in a small rural southern public school district in Georgia that had no experience teaching blind students, I’m sure that the education of a blind child at first seemed to be a daunting task. To their credit however, the Dade County school system began providing me instruction in Braille and other important blindness skills when I was only three years old. Despite being introduced to Braille at an early age, for various reasons includingmy inpatients, and initial disinterest at the idea of learning to read, by the beginning of second grade, my Braille reading skills were still below grade level.
I didn’t realizeit at the time, but the fall of 1997 when Mrs. McCormick, (or Mrs. June as everyone referred to her,)a new teacher of Blind Students came to work with memarked a crucial turning point not only in the development of my Braille reading skills, but in my life as well. Almost instantly, I noticed a vast difference between my former teacher of blind students and Mrs. June’s teaching methods. Realizing that I truly wanted to learn Braille, but my skills weren’t quite developed enough for me to enjoy books that were genuinely of interest to me, she introduced me to the wonderful collection of audio books from the National Library Service for the Blind.While we worked to improve my Braille reading skills daily, and I listened to as many books as I could get from NLS, Mrs. June also encouraged me to get a Braille copy of the audio book and read along as I listened to the story. In doing this, I quickly began recognizing many of the Braille symbols that I was seeing in my daily Braille lessons. She also used this dual media approach when it came to accessing my textbooks. As a result, my Braille skills and love for and appreciation of literature grew by leaps and bounds.
Recognizing the importance of technology, Mrs. June approached the director of special education services and requested that the school should order Braille note takers for its small number of blind students. By the fall of 2000 when I entered fifth grade, a Braille and Speak 2000 was ready and waiting for me to learn how to use it. Before receiving the Braille and Speak, I had been completing assignments via a Perkins Brailler, which Mrs. June then had to hand transcribe so that my teachers could read and grade my work. As Mrs. June and I began learning to use the Braille and Speak (with much trial and error, and many calls to tech support,) I was thrilled by the fact that I no longer had to haul the bulky, cumbersome Braillewriter around to my various classes.
As the transition from elementary to middle school approached, and I began considering the various electives that I would have the opportunity of taking throughout middle school, I was intrigued with the idea of joining the band. Although several well-meaning individuals attempted to persuade me against participating in this venture, I was optimistic that with creative thinking, I could find a non-visual way of learning the music alongside my sighted peers. Although Mrs. June knew nothing about Braille music, she taught herself the basics and tirelessly hand-brailed my band and chorus music throughout my years as a participant.
Due to the various Braille magazines that I began receiving in high school, I discovered the existence of the National Federation of the Blind. Upon reading issues of “The Braille Monitor,” I discovered many insightful articles of successful blind individuals living the lives that they wanted, as well as reading about the positive philosophy and life changing experiences of NFB training center graduates. Growing up in a small town with little exposure to competent blind role models, the realization that there were hundreds of successful blind people who were contributing members of society was a life changing moment for me.
As an undergraduate in my senior year of college, whether it is jotting down notes in class, making a presentation, completing math, science, or foreign language requirements, or any of the countless other tasks required of a college student,Braille has proven to be an invaluable tool that has allowed me to participate fully in many facets of my college career. As an aspiring teacher of blind students, I am determined that my students regardless of visual acuity or multiple disabilities, be as competent as possible using Braille. Though they may not all aspire to be doctors, lawyers, or teachers, it is my goal that all of them gain the skills to be confident, Braille reading, contributing members of society!