by Nancy Johnson

The President's Message in the January issue made me nostalgic. I learned braille in first grade in the 1940s. I, too, have relied on braille throughout my life, though I've learned and use print and technology as well to the extent I'm able.

My braille teacher made learning to read fun. She also had a way of letting us know when we weren't doing well. She'd stand behind our chairs and look at the word we'd drawn to read and, if we couldn't figure it out, she'd quietly whisper "dunce." Whatever a dunce was, I didn't want to be one.

My younger brother didn't like Mom turning out all the lights at bedtime. When I was in third grade I made a deal. I'd read stories to him from my braille books if he'd let Mom turn out the lights. It worked! He liked being read to, even if he had to listen in the dark.

Our library at the school for the blind was a favorite hide-away. I went in there every chance I got and browsed among the braille books. As an adult, I've always been envious of sighted folks who can go to the library or bookstore and just "hang out" with the books.

I had the curiosity and demanded to know what print letters meant and, because of an illness that required Mom's teaching me math in print during my fifth grade year, I began to use print. But I could never have survived in school using only print because I read and write it too slowly. Today I rely on braille for a variety of activities.

In my opinion, a parent who deprives a severely visually impaired child of the opportunity to learn and use braille does that child a heinous disservice. Integrating braille into a child's repertoire of communication skills helps that child develop into a more efficient adult and enhances self-sufficiency. Reading braille with the fingers looks no more "weird" than rubbing the print off the page with the nose or using special low-vision aids. All are options. All "look different." Why deprive a child of any one of them?

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