Below you will find a couple of short stories about learning braille, its joys and challenges. Be sure to put your soda down for the second one, or you might end up like I did, laughing ‘til your soda flew out your nose.
Me, Science Fiction and James Bond
As a child, I believe that one of the greatest challenges and hurdles that I had to overcome had to do with learning not just how to read and comprehend braille, but how to make it a pleasant experience. Let’s face it, “see Spot run” was about as exciting as trying to watch a silent film while blind and without the benefit of music. And then there were those rare occasions when my teacher would come to my desk, only to find my head comfortably pillowed on the book I was supposed to be reading. Then, two life-changing things happened simultaneously.
One warm and sunny afternoon while in third grade, my teacher took me into this big quiet room full of shelves filled with braille books; the place smelled like paper and some other clean indefinable scent. Before I knew it, I’d found a place on the floor between some shelves where I sat and read a book about an underground city and an Earth that had been taken over by aliens from beyond the stars. I was so captivated by what I was reading that I literally begged the librarian to let me take that book home.
During this time, I also met another blind student named Albert at what was then the Foundation for the Junior Blind in Los Angeles. One of the things that I immediately noticed was that he was a serious reader. In fact, he encouraged me to start ordering books from Braille Institute. The Foundation (which also had a large library) was where I found my first spy thriller — Casino Royale and its iconic protagonist, James Bond! From then on, I was to remain hooked on reading for the rest of my life.
What I did not know then was that if that person who is still my friend had not been there to encourage me to read and if I had not gone to that library on that warm and sunny day, I might not have become as literate and proficient in using braille. To date, this skill has served me well throughout my college and graduate school days, not only in taking copious lecture notes, but throughout my time as an instructor of braille as well.
Without any doubt, I would strongly encourage the parent of any blind child reading this piece to make sure that your child is taught to read and write braille. Taking the time to do this will ensure that your child can be literate as an adult. Doing this will also help them to be educated, informed, inspired and empowered by the written word and the kind of knowledge, guidance and wisdom that only a good book can impart.
— Arturo Espinoza, San Bernardino, Calif.
“Oh, That’s an ‘E,’ Not an ‘I’ …”
While attending the Davidson program for independence in Los Angeles, I was in a late afternoon braille class along with half a dozen or so other students. I was fully engrossed in a story the instructor, Ruth, assigned for me to read while she worked with another student on a Perkins. The story was called “Message in a Bottle” and tells the true tale of a man who placed a message into a bottle in England, sealed it and threw it into the English Channel. The story followed the bottle in a world-traversing journey until it appeared on the west coast along the California shores.
A few pages into the tale, I was reading of the bottle’s difficulties in navigating the tidal eddies surrounding Shetland Island when I encountered something under my fingers which didn’t make sense. I ran my index finger back and again, what I was reading didn’t make sense. Apparently, my confusion caught the attention of Ruth, who asked from an adjacent table if I was having problems. I replied that indeed, I was not sure what I was reading. Ruth excused herself from the student and came over to feel what I was reading. As she scanned the line and word I pointed her to, she read aloud. “... The Shetland Isle.”
I exclaimed, “That’s the problem! I mixed up the ‘E’ with an ‘I.’”
Ruth took only a second to comprehend what I thought I was reading, and so did the class. I won’t recant her retort to my mistake here as it is not fit for print, but it did manage to bring several minutes of levity, along with more puns not fit for print, to an otherwise oppressively silent session.
— Tyson Ernst, Springfield, Ill.