Braille was created by Louis Braille, a blind Frenchman, in the 1820s. He originally designed it as a means to read music. Little did he know almost two centuries later, Braille would become a languaged used worldwide by blind people.
Ever since I attended a seminar at The Lighthouse a few years ago, I had put “learn to read Braille” on my “to do” list. A Freedom Scientific rep was there, and he emphasized the importance of learning Braille if you’re blind. He was blind himself, and he said you are not truly literate as a blind person unless you know Braille. When you “read” by audio books, it is not true reading because you are being fed the words by someone else; you are picking up subliminal interpretations via the reader’s tone and inflections. So Braille is the closest thing there is to reading with one’s own eyes.
When I began losing vision in both my eyes six years ago, I thought I’d be able to get by the rest of my life simply by using my ears–after all, I can get most books in audio format (see some of the links to the right), and even the ones that don’t exist, I can get them recorded by certain non-profit organizations such as Taping for the Blind (read my post about them here). It wasn’t until this FS rep got up on his soapbox and made me realize I might as well utilize what skills I do have and improve myself by learning Braille.
I started off learning Braille by correspondence courses through the Hadley School for the Blind. While I learned some valuable independent living skills from Hadley, it was difficult for me to get very far with their Braille courses. Hadley is definitely a wonderful resource for the blind–their courses are free–but if you’re like me and need some external discipline, then it might be a challenge to get through the lessons in a timely manner. (I’ll still blog about Hadley and all their perks later.) So I ended up going through DARS for my Braille class. It’s nice because in addition to offering classes at their office, you can also request a teacher to meet you either at your house or location of choice and teach you one-on-one. This is what I do since I try to avoid the MetroLift whenever possible.
The face-to-face class offers me more discipline–my teacher insists we meet at least three times a month. There are 18 lessons to learn the entire alphabet, numbers, and punctuation. I started in May soon after the wedding and semester were over, and I’m happy to say I should be done with all 18 lessons before the school starts again in a couple of weeks. Today I learned W, X, Y, and Z. I think I only have punctuation left before I can graduate to the second grade and learn contracted Braille, which is a whole other story.
My progress has been decent. The first half of the alphabet was relatively a breeze, but once I started hitting the letters that used up more dot positions in the Braille cell (which has a total of six dot positions), my learning curve definitely started flattening out. I’m determined, though, and hope to one day be able to read Braille almost as fast as I once could read print. Stay tuned for more Braille lesson updates.