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What Braille Means to Us

Categories: Blind or Visually Impaired

Compiled By: Kristen Witucki, College Success Program Curriculum and Content Editor

Six of Learning Ally's College Success Program employees reflect on what braille means to them during National Braille Week, held October 5-11, 2020, and Blindness Awareness Month, held every October.

Mary Alexander
National Director, Program Initiatives for the Blind

"When [my son,] Cooper was learning braille, he was very slow. Learning to read with only one hand is hard. We paired a Learning Ally audiobook with the same book in braille and it really helped him learn his contractions. I'm very thankful for braille and for Learning Ally."

Megan Dausch
College Success Program Mentor

"Braille gives me the freedom to create with language, to taste the syllables of words as I read, allows me to silently enjoy books in the dark and the quiet, but also enables me to share them aloud. As a child, I reveled in the ability to read in the dark when no one else could."

"Not only can I engage in two of my favorite activities because of braille - reading and writing - but I have the privilege of using braille every day at work, in my home, and on my iPhone. Thank you, braille, for being a constant in my life, from dreaded page-long long division math problems in elementary school, to enabling me to rapidly type on a touch-screen to allowing me to control my iPhone and laptop completely via braille display. Thanks for being one of my daily reminders that every tiny thing in this ever-changing world matters; every dot, every cell, every word, every thought, every dream, every unfolding story..."

Rachel Grider
College Success Program Mentor

"I have always loved libraries. Whenever I walk into a school or county library, with its floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with thousands upon thousands of books, I am filled with awe that such a vast amount of knowledge can be contained in one building. However, this awe is tempered by an equally potent sadness, because all those books of knowledge are inaccessible to me."

"With the advent of programs like Bookshare and BARD, getting my hands on an electronic braille book has never been easier. These online libraries have opened up new worlds; if I want to read a book, I can simply search for it, and, more often than not, I can have it at my fingertips in minutes. When I was a child, however, these online libraries were not part of my reality, and getting my hands on a hard-copy braille book was not easy. About three times a year, I would receive a catalog from the Braille Institute; the catalog was in braille, and I was allowed to choose four braille books, three fiction and one non-fiction, and those books would be mailed to me to keep. My fingers itched for that catalog; I would read it cover to cover, feeling the full weight of the choice before me, as I would not have another chance to order books for several months, and some of these books might not even be in the next catalog at all. After I sent in my selections, I would eagerly anticipate the arrival of my books, and when they would finally come, I would try hard to savor them, doing my best to make them last until the next shipment - but, of course, I always finished them way too quickly."

"Now, I have thousands of braille books on my BrailleNote alone. I have online databases at my disposal where I can download and read books in braille, audio format, and document form. The knowledge to which I have access is truly limitless. Even so, I will never be able to find a substitute for the weight of that think braille volume in my arms, the smell of the paper, the rustle of turning pages, and the feel of the braille under my fingers."

Rashad Jones
College Success Program Mentor

"Braille has been a constant in my life for as far back as I can remember! For me, braille is my first language other than the spoken word; it is reliable, because I can take notes when I need to speak. I am so grateful to have this method of communication!"

Abigail Shaw
Mentor Coordinator and Production Coordinator

"I truly began to learn braille during my sophomore year of high school. My parents had attempted to give me the opportunity to gain the skill in the second grade, as they knew my vision would very likely deteriorate due to a genetic condition. As a seven-year-old, however, I didn't understand the freedom that the tactile way of reading and interacting with the written word would provide me and was consequently a terrible student. Picking up braille later in life was tough, and I wish I had truly mastered it early on."

"Braille has made me a more confident traveler when navigating unfamiliar buildings. Because of braille, I am a better public speaker who can seamlessly reference notes without having to look away from an audience. Braille has also made me an insightful vocalist in a community choir - even if my voice isn't that great, at least I know what note I should be singing."

Kristen Witucki
College Success Program Curriculum and Content Editor

"Although my brother is younger than I am, he could read years before I could. The world around him was full of print. In frustration and curiosity, I colored in his books. They felt blank to me, but he was upset that I was covering the words he could read. Maybe that was not a coincidence. My parents did the best they could, but I did not have that same early childhood visual immersion in language, and learning braille was a deliberate act. Once I understood that braille was the key to everything, I was determined to learn, if only to show him that I, too could read."

"Braille helped me write diaries that I did not have to hide, pass funny notes in class, and create a few funky pictures. Braille has also helped me to excel academically, write books, teach, and read to my children. It means everything to me."