by Melody Holloway
In 2007 I began attending a consumer-operated drop-in, peer-owned support center for adults living with mental health conditions, addiction, and long-term effects of unspeakable trauma. I was in my early 20s, lacked self-confidence, self-worth, and was still finding my purpose. I was the only totally blind associate, which is what members are called due to equal partnership which forms the integral team of recovery.
One day another associate excitedly informed me that an older blind gentleman was sitting at one of the tables not too far away. I spoke up. The rest was history. John was 68, a father of three — twin daughters and a son — as well as a grandfather of three young granddaughters. The bullet intended for termination of his life took all his sight instead.
John had attended the Washington School for the Blind’s adult independent living program, which forced him to buck up and did not consider his emotional well-being or the processing of lifelong traumatic experience. He lived in a group home with a roommate who became a near constant sighted guide. He was desperate for someone to assist him with independent living skills. I also offered to tutor him in the basics of braille.
For nearly two years I dragged my electric Perkins brailler to and from the peer center, along with handfuls of braille paper. We tackled the alphabet, writing his name, began spelling three-letter words, putting each group of letters together, as John gradually caught on. As far as punctuation, we got as far as capital and period.
John became more adept at reading uncontracted braille than writing. At the time, I was close friends with a TVI who lives in Guam. I solicited her advice regarding how I could help John understand the concept of the 6-dot cell. She suggested a 6-hole muffin tin or cutting an egg carton in half and having him feel the 6 cups. I went with the egg carton option. When I arrived at the center with the halved carton in my pocket, someone asked if I was carrying 6 raw eggs in my pocket. “No, my goodness! This carton is for John’s braille lesson.”
Eventually, John tired of tedious braille lessons. An independent living instructor at Columbus, Ohio’s now former sight center told him about Guide and Dragon software for the computer. Despite my effort to explain that voice recognition was less than reliable and to stress the importance of braille literacy no matter what stage of life someone learned, he declined my future assistance.
I miss my former mentee who also became my mentor, teaching me valuable life lessons of his own, sharing in the path to recovery. One of the most important truths I carry with me to this day is the reminder that anyone can educate and anyone can learn, no matter their age, background, culture, faith, identity, disability, condition, or method of communication.