I’m a strong advocate for Braille literacy. It can bridge the gaps that many people with low vision face.
When my parents brought me home from the hospital, they thought I was a very typical, healthy baby and they joyfully expected that very soon I’d learn to recognize their faces and the world around me. What they didn’t know at the time was that I couldn’t see very much at all, so I learned to recognize them by their voices instead. When I wasn’t hitting all the milestones that most babies do, we were sent to an ophthalmologist who informed my parents that I had cataracts and likely couldn’t see anything more than light. My parents were terrified. They had no idea what limitations I would have or how they could make my environment more accessible. They just didn’t know anyone who couldn’t see. There were many unknowns.
After numerous eye operations to remove my cataracts and restore some of my vision, my parents were told that I would be legally blind for the rest of my life. Mom and dad grieved for the loss of my eyesight, but they quickly realized that they needed to figure it out.
We connected with early intervention services and I was given glasses before I could walk. I held my first magnifier before I knew how to read. I was well equipped early on to use what little vision I had. This taught me to be very resourceful, a skill that serves me to this day. No one knew how unstable my vision would one day be and how ultimately difficult it would be to use my remaining eyesight to read and write.
I remember many times in school Braille would be discussed as a viable means of reading for me. It was always decided that I had too much vision to learn Braille. I could read print, but it had to be magnified to 5X and I had to hold it so close to my face that I often had ink smudges on my nose. Let’s not even discuss the neck pain I still have from bending over books to get close enough to read them. All of this is to say that at the time, everyone thought that since I could read print, I should read it. So Braille was dismissed.
As I got older, my vision fluctuated. Sometimes it was good (this is relative of course – by good I mean 20/200), but then other times, under different circumstances, it was much different. You see, without perfect lighting and perfect contrast and perfect print, etc., my vision is not nearly as “good.” It’s always been difficult for me to give a presentation, because, unless my audience wants to hear me through a sheet of paper, I have to memorize everything I want to say. I’ve never been able to read a menu at a restaurant, because the lighting is never bright enough and the menus are never clear enough. Another frustrating situation is when I have to find a file. Usually I have to practically stick my head in the cabinet to see the labels! You get the idea.
I realize now that I absolutely should have learned Braille while I was in school. Even if Braille was never my primary method for reading and writing, it would have been just one more tool to have in my toolbox. I could read Braille notes while giving presentations, or just causally slide my fingers over Braille labels in a filing cabinet. Those tasks would be so much easier. Braille doesn’t have to be a last resort for people with low vision; instead it can be a very valuable tool.