What Braille Means to Our Son and Family
By Susan Harper, MS Ed.
My son is seven and totally blind with the exception of a small bit of light perception at five o’clock in one eye. He has never been able to see. Braille for him is like print for the rest of us. It is his means of reading and communicating in a world of print. It will be a means of independence for him as he gets older.
Studies show that braille literacy is the key to education and jobs, just as the ability to read is necessary for literacy and jobs for the sighted world. Okay, that is the highbrow version.
How is my child going to read if I can’t? I can read print, but I couldn’t read braille. I could explain print, but not braille. If I couldn’t do it, how could I expect my child to do it? How was my child going to learn to read?
Like after several of our adoptions of our differently abled children, “Now what? Oh, boy, what have we gotten into and how would we provide?” Seems braille was in our future along with our son’s. We could do this, right? After all, I have a master’s degree in Special Education. I guess someone forgot to include visual impairment in that curriculum.
So, I went back to my early learning and philosophy of education. My father always told us if we could read, we could learn to do anything. I love to read and learn new things. Well, this also applies to braille: if you can read, you can learn to do anything. Without braille, my son would not have the same opportunities that I have to learn new things, to enjoy a story unfolding, to make a cake, to learn about gardening, etc. Yes, I could read all those things to him or someone could make a recording, but it isn’t the same as being able to do for yourself. Braille opens up the possibility of independent learning, doing for one’s self.
So back to the question, how was I going to explain the braille code if I didn’t know braille? Okay, I learned braille, and I am still learning braille. But I am one step, maybe two steps, ahead of my son’s learning. I really enjoy braille because it is like music. Each dot or combination of dots takes on its own meaning. As I become aware of the patterns, I then can teach them to my son. Did I mention we homeschool? Just like all the other children (five have completed and graduated from homeschool), I am learning right along with my child and enjoying my sense of accomplishment too. I use
- the book, Just Enough to Know Better, a braille primer by Eileen P. Curran, M.Ed.;
- English Braille Symbols Chart, available through National Braille Press;
- Nemeth Code Reference Sheet for Basic Mathematics, from APH, American Printing House for the Blind, Inc.; and our
- teacher of students with visual impairments.
I’m looking for a braille spelling dictionary, but don’t have one yet.
We have become ambassadors and advocates for our blind community (so far, that is just us because of the low incidence of children who are blind in our rural Maine community), working to teach the importance of learning and why braille is so important to us. If you know my son, you can’t help but be in awe of all he has overcome and is now achieving! What will he be in the future? I don’t know, but we’ll do it together as a family.
Louis Braille provided us with a braille code, which has helped many towards the path to independence and literacy. I am so grateful for that contribution which provides the opportunity for my son to learn about and participate fully in the world around him. Braille is the legacy of Louis Braille that will keep on giving, even though he is no longer walking among us. His legacy will live on through our learning! Thank you, Mr. Braille!